Sayings of Jesus on the Cross: #2 “Today You Will Be  With Me In Paradise”

Today, you will be with me in Paradise - Redeemed Online -

#2 “Today You Will Be  With Me In  Paradise”

 “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at Him: “Aren’t you the Christ?  Save yourself and us!”  But the other criminal rebuked him.  “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.  But this man has done nothing wrong.”  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:40-43).

It was no accident that the Lord of glory was crucified between two thieves. There are no accidents in a world that is governed by God. Sovereignty tells us that God either causes something to occur or He allows it (letting natural law and freewill choices run their course of action).

God was presiding over that scene. From all eternity he had decreed when and where and how and with whom his Son should die. Nothing was left to chance or the caprice of man. All that God had decreed came to pass exactly as he had ordained, and nothing happened save as he had eternally purposed.

Was not the Savior numbered with transgressors to show us the position he occupied as our substitute? He had taken the place which was due us, and what was that but the place of shame, the place of transgressors, the place of criminals condemned to death!

Crucifixion was probably the most horrible form of capital punishment ever devised by man. The ancient Persians practiced it. When the Persian ruler Darius conquered Babylon, he had 3,000 leading citizens crucified. Later crucifixion became a mode of Greek execution. Following the destruction of Tyre, Alexander the Great crucified 2,000 men of military age.

On occasion, the Jews resorted to crucifixion. In the inter-biblical period, Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 B.C.) crucified eight hundred Pharisees who had been involved in a revolt. The Romans, however, were most noted for the practice. In 71 B.C., following a slave revolt in Rome, six thousand recaptured slaves were crucified on the Appian Way leading to the city (Vos 1999, 439).

The verb “crucify” (46 times in the New Testament) was used by the inspired writers of the New Testament to depict the mode of Jesus’ death. But not his only—two other men were crucified at the same time as Christ. All four Gospel writers are emphatic that two criminals were crucified—one on either side of the Savior (Matthew 27:38; Mark 15:27; Luke 23:32; John 19:18).

While Jesus hung on the cross, He never once uttered a defense.  He didn’t yell out, “You’ve got the wrong man.  I didn’t commit an offense worthy of death.  You are crucifying an innocent man.”   In fact, not only did Jesus utter no defense…none of His disciples protested His persecution.  Not one disciple spoke out on Jesus’ behalf.  They all remained silent as they watched their friend and teacher suffer intense pain.

Interestingly enough…the only person who spoke out in defense of Jesus was a convicted criminal…a thief…a robber…an unrighteous, sinful man. This thief had the courage and the faith to stand up for Jesus.   And this impressed Jesus so much that He told the man that he would join Him in paradise.  This is a wonderful story.

Another important lesson which we may learn from the crucifixion of Christ between the two thieves, and the fact that one received him and the other rejected him, is that of the sovereignty of God. The two malefactors were crucified together. They were equally near to Christ. Both of them saw and heard all that transpired during those fateful six hours. Both were notoriously wicked; both were suffering acutely; both were dying, and both urgently needed forgiveness.

Yet one of them died in his sins, died as he had lived – hardened and impenitent; while the other repented of his wickedness, believed in Christ, called on him for mercy and went to Paradise. How can this be accounted for except by the sovereignty of God!

To whom does God offer forgiveness? Is it to the best amongst us? Is it to those who have met some preconditions? We get a small glimpse of love that is measureless and an ever so miniscule peek at God’s infinite reservoir of forgiveness, when we hear those second words from the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise”.

Being crucified on the same day, and hanging on either side of the Lord, on their own, deserved, crosses, were two evil-doers.  One of these, even though hanging and dying, and coming near the end of his life, only to face God in judgment upon his death, joined in with those who mocked and hated Jesus.  “Are you not the Messiah?  Save yourself and save us, too, if you are able!”

But his former partner in robbery, murder, and rebellion rebuked him.  For now, upon a cross and facing death, this second sinner has a change of mind about his life.  The sentence of death brings home to him the truth that he is worthy of wrath and punishment because of his constant refusal to submit to the moral will of God. In this humbled state, he turns to Jesus, recognizes him as Lord, and cries for mercy and pardon.  Perhaps he has bee encouraged by overhearing Jesus’ prayer for His enemies.

And he may have reasoned, “Am I not a life-long enemy of God?”  Though he has no lifetime of good deeds to present, though he can only say that he is unworthy of pardon, the good and merciful Lord Jesus, from His own cross, assures this man of eternal life.


Thief on the cross a pattern for salvation?

To argue that the example of the thief on the cross is a pattern of salvation today involves an unwarranted assumption and a faulty view of biblical chronology.

The Facts

When the Lord was crucified, he was positioned between two robbers, both of whom, at some point during the six hours of agony, reproached him (Matt. 27:44; Mk. 15:32). The Greek grammar suggests a repeated verbal assault. However, as the ordeal proceeded, a change occurred in one of the thieves. This aspect of the case is only recorded by Luke.

“And there was also a superscription over him, THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. And one of the malefactors that were hanged railed on him, saying, Art not thou the Christ? Save thyself and us. But the other answered, and rebuking him said, Dost thou not even fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said, Jesus, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom. And he said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:38-43).

Several important facts come to light by a careful analysis of this paragraph.

By comparing Luke’s record with that of Matthew and Mark, it is obvious that there was a change in the man’s view regarding Jesus. Instead of reviling the Lord, he glorified him and petitioned the Savior. And Jesus graciously responded to his change in behavior.

The penitent thief had a good deal of information concerning Christ. Exactly when he learned these facts is not specified. But there are two possibilities. Either he considered what he heard about Christ during that six-hour episode and became convinced of his royalty, or else he already knew about the Savior from earlier circumstances.

Here’s a thoughtful question. Isn’t it possible that he had been exposed significantly to information about Jesus earlier in his life, had been impressed by it, and later regressed into a life of crime?

Note some things about the man’s beliefs.

  • He acknowledged the existence of God.
  • He believed in a standard of right and wrong.
  • He confessed that he and his companion had transgressed divine law.
  • He conceded they were being punished “justly.”

Additionally, he confessed the innocence of Christ. The Teacher had done “nothing amiss.” And remember, the Lord was being crucified for his affirmation of being the “Son of the Blessed One” (Mk. 14:61, 62). The robber’s statement, therefore, is basically an acknowledgement of the truth of Jesus’ claim.

Then consider this. The penitent thief believed that Christ was a “king” and that this act of murder would not terminate the Savior’s life. Rather, the Lord would “come in [his] kingdom.” And he was confident that Jesus would be able to bless him in that future state. At the very least, these expressions indicate that the thief believed it was possible to have association with the Lord after both of them were dead.

God is not interested in what we once were; instead, He is interested in what we can become. Many people in the Bible overcame a turbulent past, and became great and faithful servants of the Lord.

  • Abraham, the father of the Hebrew nation, at one time worshipped other gods (Joshua 24:2).
  • David, the third King of Israel, although he committed adultery, became a man after God’s own heart.
  • Paul, the great apostle of Jesus Christ, at one time had Christians arrested and killed.

Although at one time these men lived ungodly lives, they were given another chance and eventually they became great servants of the Lord, and so can we. We must forget our past failures and focus on our future successes.

The Authority of Christ

Having said that, let us now focus our attention in another direction. The careful Bible student must acknowledge that there are different periods of sacred history, in the course of which, certain religious requirements may vary. Abraham was never commanded to be baptized or to observe the Lord’s supper.

In today’s era of religious history, we are not obligated to observe the Passover, or to offer animal sacrifices. Jehovah has had different requirements in different periods of history.

Christ Had Authority to Forgive Sins

During his personal ministry, Jesus possessed the authority to forgive men’s sins personally and directly, upon whatever terms he chose. For example, once while in the city of Capernaum, the Lord encountered a man who was paralyzed. The unfortunate gentleman had been conveyed to where Christ was by four of his friends.

When Jesus saw “their faith,” he said to the palsied man, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mark 2:5). Then, in order to establish his “authority” in the matter of personally forgiving sins “on earth” (2:10), Christ healed the man of his malady.

(2) The fact is, while Jesus was on earth he had the authority to dispense blessings directly based upon the circumstances at hand.

Our time is running out.  Since life is so unpredictable, we may only have a short time left.  We need to place our faith in Jesus and receive God’s wonderful gift of salvation before it is to late.

During his personal ministry, Jesus possessed the authority to forgive men’s sins personally and directly.

For example, once while in the city of Capernaum, the Lord encountered a man who was paralyzed. The unfortunate gentleman had been conveyed to where Christ was by four of his friends. When Jesus saw “their faith,” he said to the palsied man, “Son, your sins are forgiven” (Mk. 2:5). Then, in order to establish his “authority” in the matter of personally forgiving sins “on earth” (Mk. 2:10), Christ healed the man of his malady.

The fact is, while Jesus was on earth he had the authority to dispense blessings directly based on the circumstances at hand. At the time of his death, however, his authority was made resident in his testamentary “will” (Heb. 9:15-17). And the terms of that will specify baptism as a condition of pardon (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21).

No one has the legal right to eliminate that condition by appealing to something the Lord did during earthly ministry before his final will was ratified. The heavenly kingdom takes precedence over the former.

It becomes very apparent, therefore, that those who appeal to the case of the “thief on the cross” as a specific example for conversion today are mistaken in several particulars.

  • They do not comprehend the differencebetween the Savior’s earthly ministry and his current reign from heaven; and,
  • They have thrust aside the plain demands of the New Covenant.

 Paradise … Ash noted that “In some elements of first-century Judaism, (this word) described the heavenly abode of the soul between death and the resurrection.” Without much doubt, this is the meaning here. After Jesus rose from the dead, he stated that he had not yet ascended to the Father (John 20:17); therefore, Paradise is not identified as the final abode of the blessed. It is the same as “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:11).

The term paradise is used in the New Testament to refer to the future dwelling place of God’s people (see 2 Cor 12:4; Rev 2:7). The reader should not become so concerned with the question of the intermediate state that the point is missed. Luke is reminding his readers of that which he has told them often. God forgives penitent sinners, while the impenitent (the rulers, the soldiers, and the other criminal) are excluded from the blessing.

A Cross of Love

The cross of Christ was a cross of love. Early in his ministry Jesus declared: “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (John 3:14; cf. 12:32-33). He then affirmed: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son” (John 3:16).

A Cross of Sacrifice

The cross of Christ was a cross of sacrifice. Paul reminded the saints in Ephesus that Christ loved them, and the expression of that love was that he “gave himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for an odor and a sweet smell” (Ephesians 5:2).

A Cross of Peace

The cross of Christ was a cross of peace. Jesus was able to implement a plan of reconciliation by which sinful humanity could be at peace with the holy God, from whom sin had demanded a separation (Isaiah 59:1-2; Romans 5:1ff; Ephesians 2:1ff). This was provided for both segments of humanity, so that “in Christ” no longer is there Jew or Greek; Christians become “one” in him (Ephesians 2:13-18; Galatians 3:28).

 A Cross of Joy

The cross of Christ was a cross of joy.  In considering the Savior’s determination to implement the plan of salvation, the writer states that the “author and perfecter of faith,” for “the joy that was set before him, endured the cross, despising shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). The Savior’s joy over the potential salvation of the human family eclipsed the shame of the cross!

 The Use of “Hell” in the New Testament

There is a great deal of confusion among religious folks regarding this word due to the fact that the English form “hell” actually represents three different terms in the Greek New Testament.

The term “hell” is found twenty-three times in the King James Version of the English Bible. There is a great deal of confusion among religious folks regarding this word due to the fact that the English form “hell” actually represents three different terms in the Greek New Testament. Let us give consideration to this matter.


The Greek hades is translated “hell” ten times in the KJV. Most recent versions transliterate the term, bringing it directly into English as Hades.

Hades is used for the general abode of the spirits of the dead, whether good or evil. Jesus affirmed that he possessed the keys (authority to open) of “death” (the receptacle of the body) and “Hades” (the realm of the departed soul) (Rev. 1:18).

Both death and Hades will be emptied at the time of the judgment (Rev. 20:13-14), i.e., the grave will give up the body, and the spirit sphere will surrender the soul.

By means of a figure known as a synecdoche (the whole put for a part), Hades is sometimes used to designate a limited region of the spirit world. Depending upon the context, that region may either be one of punishment or reward.

For example, Jesus warned that the wicked inhabitants of Capernaum (who had rejected his teaching) would go down into Hades (Mt. 11:23; Lk. 10:15). When the cold-hearted rich man died, his spirit was found in Hades, a place of torment and anguish (Lk. 16:23-24).

On the other hand, when Christ died, while his body was resting in Joseph’s tomb, his soul was in Hades (Acts 2:27-31), which elsewhere is called “Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). This seems to have been the same state as “Abraham’s bosom,” a place of comfort (Lk. 16:22,25).

When Christ promised to build his church, and declared that the “gates of Hades” would not prevail against it, he may have been suggesting that when he died, Hades would not retain his soul, thus preventing the establishment of his kingdom. Or, he may have been proclaiming that the church would share ultimately in his victory over death at the time of the resurrection.


The apostle Peter wrote that: ”. . . God spared not angels when they sinned, but cast them down to hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment . . .” (2 Pet. 2:4).

Here, “hell” is from the Greek term tartarosas, a participle, the noun form of which is Tartarus (so rendered in the footnote of the ASV). This is this word’s only occurrence in the New Testament.

Originally it simply denoted a deep place; it carries that significance in Job 40:13; 41:31 in the Septuagint. Homer, the Greek poet, spoke of “dark Tartarus . . . the deepest pit” (Iliad, 8.13). Here, it is used of the abode of evil angels prior to their banishment to Gehenna, their ultimate destiny (cf. Mt. 25:41).

The ancient Greeks, however, applied the word to the region of the wicked dead. Since there is no indication that Peter assigns an extraordinary meaning to the term, it is reasonable to conclude that it denotes that area of Hades in which both rebel men and angels are punished preliminary to the day of judgment.


The final and eternal abode of those who die apart from God is Gehenna. The word is found twelve times in the Greek New Testament. In eleven of these instances, it is Jesus Christ himself who employs the term. The fact is, the Lord spoke of “hell” more frequently than he did of that state called “heaven.”

Gehenna is a transliteration of an Old Testament Hebrew expression, “the valley of Hinnom,” which denoted a ravine on the southern side of Jerusalem. This valley was used by certain apostate Hebrews as a place where their children were offered into the fiery arms of the pagan god Molech (2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6).

It was thus an area of suffering and weeping. When Josiah launched his reformation, this valley was regarded as a site of heinous abomination (2 Kgs. 23:10-14). It finally became the garbage depository of Jerusalem where there was a continual burning of refuse.

Gehenna, being associated with these ideas, appropriately served as a symbolic designation for the place of suffering to which evil persons will be consigned following the Lord’s return. Let us now consider the New Testament passages in which Gehenna is mentioned.

Jesus spoke of Gehenna several times in his “Sermon on the Mount.” For instance, he warned that whoever addresses another: “You fool!” shall be in danger of the “hell of fire” (Mt. 5:22). This does not mean that a legitimate use of the appellation “fool” (or its derivatives) is prohibited (cf. Psa. 14:1; 1 Cor. 15:36; Gal. 3:1). Rather, the Lord condemns the explosive use of pejorative barbs for the sake of venting one’s personal rage.

Employing several examples of hyperbole (for the sake of emphasis), Christ stressed that it would be better to proceed through life with great loss (e.g. deprived of an eye or a limb), rather than having Gehenna as a final destiny (Mt. 5:29-30; cf. 18:9; Mk. 9:43-47).

On another occasion, the Lord said: “And be not afraid of them that kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28; cf. Lk. 12:5).

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Posted by on June 23, 2022 in cross


Sayings of Jesus on the Cross: #1 “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Father Forgive Them, They Know Not What They Do.” (Luke 23:24) | Canisius College Campus Ministry Blog

Man had done his worst.  The one by whom the world was made had come into it, but the world knew him not. The Lord of glory had tabernacled among men, but he was not wanted.

The eyes which sin had blinded saw in him no beauty that he should be desired. At his birth there was no room in the inn, which foreshadowed the treatment he was to receive at the hands of men. Shortly after his birth Herod sought to slay him, and this intimated the hostility his person evoked and forecast the cross as the climax of man’s enmity.

Again and again, his enemies attempted his destruction. And now their vile desires are granted them. The Son of God had yielded himself up into their hands. A mock trial had been gone through, and though his judges found no fault in him, nevertheless, they had yielded to the insistent clamoring of those who hated him as they cried again and again “Crucify him”.

When someone dies, a frequent question that people have is: “Did he or she say anything at the end?”  We want to know what the last words were.  We are hopeful that there will be a final acknowledgment that they understood how much we loved them.  We look for some word of insight, a wise truth, a word of hope.

Shakespeare once wrote in his play Richard II…The tongues of dying men–Enforce attention like deep harmony–Where words are scarce–They are seldom spent in vain–For they breathe truth–That breathe their words in pain.

When Jesus was dying on the cross, He gave seven important statements (commonly referred to as “The Seven Sayings From The Cross”).  These statements…the last of a dying man…enable us to see into the very core…the very heart of Jesus.

His final words from the cross will provide us some important theological principles and practical spiritual lessons.  Over the next few weeks, we are going to look at these last words of Jesus.

Think about the goodness and purity of Jesus Christ.  His compassion and love, deeds of kindness and healings.  His words of grace.  His preaching the glad tidings of the Gospel.  There has never been anyone so pure and good as He.

He never sinned. Never disobeyed His Father.  Never did violence.  Never broke any laws.  He was a Friend to all, even to wretched harlots and greedy publicans.

So, how could people hate Him?  What could have caused Pontius Pilate to agree with Herod to condemn Him?  And the chief priests and rulers of Israel to conspire with Judas?  (the latter betrayed Him, and the former mocked, spat upon and blindfolded and struck Him with their fists)  and what could have caused the multitude, who had formerly followed Him and heard him with admiration, to turn against Him and cry out for His death by crucifixion?

(Luke 23:32-38)  “Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. {33} When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals–one on his right, the other on his left. {34} Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. {35} The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” {36} The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar {37} and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” {38} There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”

Not all the Seven Words of Christ from the cross are recorded in one gospel, therefore we do not have an automatic recognition of the order in which they were uttered.

There is in them, however, a progression of the will and purpose of God for the redemption of mankind. They seem to sum up in themselves the whole of the gospel.

To help us better appreciate these words, we must look at some prior events that had taken place.  Remember, before Jesus was nailed to the cross, we read that He experienced many terrible things.  He was flogged.  This was usually done with a whip that had bits of bone or metal embedded into it.  The effect was to tear up the back of the person.

 Following the whipping, we are told that the soldiers mocked and beat Jesus.  They dressed Him up as a king with a crown of thorns on His head.  Then they beat Him and spit on Him.  They hurled insults at Him.  What I want us to see is that Jesus was physically abused by His enemy.

Not only was Jesus physically abused, He was humiliated as well.  As you may recall, the soldiers made Jesus carry His own cross to the place of execution. This process was designed to humiliate.  Jesus was being showcased to the people as a vile criminal.

If that was not enough, Jesus was executed publicly. People stood around and waited for Him to die. Every gasp, every twitch from pain, every moment of struggle was watched by the crowd. He couldn’t even talk privately with His family and friends!

But there was yet one final insult. Even as He was hanging on the cross the guards were gambling to see who got to keep His clothes. This was worse than a family fighting about the will before someone has died. It’s like watching all your possessions sold before your very eyes. His dignity was gone.  Jesus was humiliated.


After being betrayed, falsely convicted, beaten, spat upon, and unjustly nailed to a cross to die an agonizing death, the Son of God harbored no hatred for His tormentors but instead we read that He offered them forgiveness…His first words from the cross were “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”

The first three were uttered between the third and sixth hours (9 a.m.-12 noon).

This first of the seven cross-sayings of our Lord presents him in the attitude of prayer. How significant! How instructive! His public ministry had opened with prayer (Luke 3:21), and here we see it closing in prayer. Surely he has left us an example! No longer might those hands minister to the sick, for they are nailed to the cross; no longer may those feet carry him on errands of mercy, for they are fastened to the cruel tree; no longer may he engage in instructing the apostles, for they have forsaken him and fled. How then does he occupy himself? In the ministry of prayer! What a lesson for us.

In praying for his enemies not only did Christ set before us a perfect example of how we should treat those who wrong and hate us, but he also taught us never to regard any as beyond the reach of prayer. If Christ prayed for his murderers then surely we have encouragement to pray now for the very chief of sinners! Christian reader, never lose hope. Does it seem a waste of time for you to continue praying for that man, that woman, that wayward child of yours? Does their case seem to become more hopeless every day?

Jesus asked His father to forgive the very ones who abused, rejected, and humiliated Him.  These words from Jesus show us the compassionate heart of our Savior.

Jesus’ words were not just spoken for the crowds that were watching Him die.  They were also spoken for us to hear today.

 Here we see the fulfillment of the prophetic word.

How much God made known before hand of what should transpire on that day of days! What a complete picture did the Holy Spirit furnish of our Lord’s Passion with all the attendant circumstances! Among other things it had been foretold that the Saviour should “make intercession for the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12).

 Here we see Christ identified with his people.

On no previous occasion did Christ make such a request of the Father. Never before had he invoked the Father’s forgiveness of others. Hitherto he forgave himself. To the man sick of the palsy he had said, “Son, be of good cheer; thy sins be forgiven thee” (Matthew 9:2). To the woman who washed his feet with her tears in the house of Simon, he said, “Thy sins are forgiven” (Luke 7:48). Why then should he now ask the Father to forgive, instead of directly pronouncing forgiveness himself?

 Here we see the divine estimate of sin and its consequent guilt.

Under the Levitical economy God required that atonement should be made for sins of ignorance. “If a soul commit a trespass, and sin through ignorance, in the holy things of the Lord; then he shall bring for his trespass unto the Lord a ram without blemish out of the flocks, with thy estimation by shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary, for a trespass offering: And he shall make amends for the harm that he hath done in the holy thing, and shall add the fifth part thereto, and give it unto the priest: and the priest shall make an atonement for him with the ram of the trespass offering, and it shall be forgiven him” (Lev. 5:15, 16).

Sin is always sin in the sight of God whether we are conscious of it or not. Sins of ignorance need atonement just as truly as do conscious sins. God is holy, and he will not lower his standard of righteousness to the level of our ignorance. Ignorance is not innocence.

Here we see the blindness of the human heart.

This does not mean that the enemies of Christ were ignorant of the fact of his crucifixion. They did know full well that they had cried out “Crucify him”. They did know full well that their vile request had been granted them by Pilate. They did know full well that he had been nailed to the tree for they were eye-witnesses of the crime.

What then did our Lord mean when he said, “They know not what they do”? He meant they were ignorant of the enormity of their crime. They “knew not” that it was the Lord of glory they were crucifying. The emphasis is not on “They know not” but on “they know not what they do”.

And yet they ought to have known. Their blindness was inexcusable. The Old Testament prophecies which had received their fulfillment in him were sufficiently plain to identify him as the Holy One of God. His teaching was unique, for his very critics were forced to admit “Never man spake like this man” (John 7:46).

And what of his perfect life! He had lived before men a life which had never been lived on earth before. He pleased not himself. He went about doing good. He was ever at the disposal of others. There was no self-seeking about him. His was a life of self-sacrifice from beginning to end. His was a life ever lived to the glory of God. His was a life on which was stamped heaven’s approval, for the Father’s voice testified audibly, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am wellpleased” . No, there was no excuse for their ignorance. It only demonstrated the blindness of their hearts. Their rejection of the Son of God bore full witness, once for all, that the carnal mind is “enmity against God”.

Here we see a lovely exemplification of his own teaching.

In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord taught his disciples, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

Above all others Christ practiced what he preached. Grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. He not only taught the truth but was himself the truth incarnate. Said he, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6). So here on the cross he perfectly exemplified his teaching of the mount. In all things he has left us an example.

Notice Christ did not personally forgive his enemies. So in Matthew 5:44 he did not exhort his disciples to forgive their enemies, but he does exhort them to “pray” for them. But are we not to forgive those who wrong us? This leads us to a point concerning which there is much need for instruction today.

Does scripture teach that under all circumstances we must always forgive? I answer emphatically, it does not. The word of God says, “If thy brother trespass against thee, rebuke him; and if he repent, forgive him. And if he trespass against thee seven times a day, and seven times in a day turn again to thee saying, 1 repeat, thou shalt forgive him” (Luke 17:3,4).


The people who had beat Jesus, mocked Him, and nailed Him to the cross did not deserve forgiveness.  But Jesus through His kindness offered it to them.  The point is that forgiveness reaches out to the undeserving.

Chris Carrier of Coral Gables, Florida, was abducted when he was 10 years old. His kidnapper, angry with the boy’s family, burned him with cigarettes, stabbed him numerous times with an ice pick, then shot him in the head and left him to die in the Everglades. Remarkably, the boy survived, though he lost sight in one eye. No one was ever arrested.

Recently, a man confessed to the crime. Carrier, now a youth minister, went to see him. He found David McAllister, a 77-year-old ex-convict, frail and blind, living in a North Miami Beach nursing home. Carrier began visiting often, reading to McAllister from the Bible and praying with him. His ministry opened the door for McAllister to make a profession of faith.

No arrest is forthcoming; after twenty-two years, the statute of limitations on the crime is long past. In Christian Reader (Jan/Feb 98), Carrier says, “While many people can’t understand how I could forgive David McAllister, from my point of view I couldn’t not forgive him. If I’d chosen to hate him all these years, or spent my life looking for revenge, then I wouldn’t be the man I am today, the man my wife and children love, the man God has helped me to be.”

David McAllister didn’t deserve forgiveness.  He beat and tortured a little, precious child.  However, Chris Carrier had the Christ like heart to forgive him.

We must likewise forgive people who don’t deserve it. We are to forgive others just as God forgives us.

(Mark 11:25)  “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

(Ephesians 4:31-32)  “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

 Right now in your life, are you harboring any bitterness and anger against someone who did you wrong?  Do you wake up in the morning with hatred in your heart towards someone?  If you do, this morning is the perfect time to let go of your bitterness & anger and forgive the person who has treated you badly.

But you may want to say, “But they don’t deserve to be forgiven.”  But I say, “Did the people who put Jesus to death deserve to be forgiven?  No.  “Do we deserve to be forgiven by God when we sin against Him?  No.  But yet God still forgives us.  We must forgive because God forgives us.

Leonardo da Vinci painted the fresco “The Last Supper” in a church in Milan. Two very interesting stories are associated with this painting.

At the time that Leonardo da Vinci painted “The Last Supper,” he had an enemy who was a fellow painter. da Vinci had had a bitter argument with this man and despised him. When da Vinci painted the face of Judas Iscariot at the table with Jesus, he used the face of his enemy so that it would be present for ages as the man who betrayed Jesus. He took delight while painting this picture in knowing that others would actually notice the face of his enemy on Judas.

As he worked on the faces of the other disciples, he often tried to paint the face of Jesus, but couldn’t make any progress. da Vinci felt frustrated and confused. In time he realized what was wrong. His hatred for the other painter was holding him back from finishing the face of Jesus. Only after making peace with his fellow painter and repainting the face of Judas was he able to paint the face of Jesus and complete his masterpiece.

One of the reasons we may have a hard time accepting the forgiveness of God is that we find it hard to forgive others. That’s why Jesus said, “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matt. 6:14,15). If you want your relationship with Jesus to be all that it should be, forgive your enemies and do all you can to demonstrate Christ’s love to them.

I realize that at times, it is hard to forgive…but we must.  We must forgive so that we can get on with our lives.  At this moment, if you need to forgive someone, do what Jesus did, pray…”Father, forgive them…”


Although Jesus could have easily forgiven these men Himself, why did He ask His Heavenly Father to forgive them?

The answer is…Jesus wants us to understand that forgiveness ultimately comes from the Father.  An offense against the Son was an offense against the Father.  A sin against any other person was – and is – a sin against God; like the prodigal son said to his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son” (Luke 15:21).

When we sin against others, we are also sinning against God.  When we sin against another person, not only should we ask that person for forgiveness, but we should also ask God for His forgiveness.  Why?  Forgiveness ultimately comes from God the Father.


Do not think that it was because of the wicked plot of the unbelieving Jewish rulers that Jesus is now nailed to the cross.  Do not think that it was because of weakness that the Lord of glory has been arrested, tried, and condemned to die.  Do not think that the Roman military or governor was responsible.

For it was your sins and my sins which put Jesus on the cross.

And do not feel sadness just because this seems like an unhappy story filled with someone else’s pain.   Rather feel grief over your own sins, which Jesus Christ bore in His own body on the cross.

No, these men did not know nor understand just Who Jesus is.  He is the Son of God, Who came to bring you back into the love of God by suffering for your sins, and by taking your punishment.

And, consistent with love, and as the supreme example of love, Jesus prayed, Father forgive them for they know not what they do.  Among the deepest thought we can think, here, and the finest perception we can make, is that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ has everything to do with the love of God for you, and God’s provision of forgiveness of your sins.

This morning, we have looked at the first saying from the cross… “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). These words are inspiring and they teach us several wonderful lessons. Forgiveness reaches out to the undeserving. Forgiveness ultimately comes from the Father. I hope and pray that the words of the Lord have touched your heart.

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Posted by on June 20, 2022 in cross


Encounters With God: Jonah, The Prodigal Prophet – Running Away From God – Jonah 4

Jonah swallowed by a whale | Manchester Ink Link

Encounter with Jeffrey Dahmer changed minister’s life

PORTAGE, Wis. — It was an average-sized room that resembled a doctor’s office. Nothing on the walls. Sterile. Roy Ratcliff sat alone at a table in the center of the room.

He noticed sweat trickling from his forehead, and he could hear his heart pounding in the silence.

Ratcliff, minister for the church in Madison, Wisc., was to meet with a prisoner who wanted to be baptized. He had never met with a prisoner before.The inmate was a murderer, and everyone would surely question his sincerity. Perhaps it was a stunt.

The door opened, breaking the silence. A 6-foot man with blond hair, blue eyes and glasses entered the room. Ratcliff stood up to greet him. The man shook his hand and said, “It’s good to meet you.”

The guard did not enter the room. The door closed behind Jeffrey Lionel Dahmer, leaving Ratcliff alone with him.

Although Ratcliff was a little frightened to meet the serial killer from Milwaukee, Dahmer was the more nervous of the two in that room at the Columbia Correctional Institution April 18, 1994. “He was worried that his crimes would be the dominant theme (of the conversation),” Ratcliff said. He didn’t want to hear that from a minister.

Between 1978 and 1991 Dahmer killed 17 young men and boys. Police arrested him in 1991 and found victims’ decaying bodies in Dahmer’s apartment. Accusations soon surfaced that Dahmer practiced necrophilia and cannibalism.

“Do you have any religious background at all?” Ratcliff asked. He was surprised to learn that Dahmer attended a church of Christ until age 5.

Dahmer had started Bible study in prison through courses he received by mail after a “Dateline NBC” interview. A church member in Virginia, Mary Mott, and a prison minister in Crescent, Okla., Curtis Booth, sent him material. He studied on his own, and then inquired about being baptized. A minister in Milwaukee contacted Ratcliff.

Ratcliff realized that Dahmer was serious about his decision. They arranged to use a whirlpool at the prison. Dahmer climbed in and got into the fetal position to fit underneath the water. On May 10, 1994, three weeks after they had met, Ratcliff baptized one of the world’s most notorious serial killers.

After the baptism, Ratcliff insisted that he meet with Dahmer each week for Bible study to continue to bring God into his life.

Ratcliff knew little about the man he baptized, so he started to read books about Dahmer’s crimes. The monster he read about and the person he knew didn’t seem like the same man.

Dahmer mentioned his crimes on occasion, and showed a sense of sorrow for what he had done, Ratcliff said. But at no time in their conversations did Dahmer say why he committed the crimes. That was something Ratcliff — and the rest of the nation — could only guess.

A jury rejected Dahmer’s insanity plea in 1992, and based on his conversations with the inmate, Ratcliff agreed with the decision. “He knew it was wrong and tried to cover it up,” Ratcliff said.

On one occasion, Dahmer said he should be put to death for what he did. Ratcliff said he agreed. But Wisconsin has no death penalty, and Ratcliff told him suicide is a selfish act. He should strive to be a good prisoner and live to serve God.

“Most people struggle with the idea of Jeffrey Dahmer repenting,” Ratcliff said. “All they can remember is the heinousness of the crimes.”

On his answering machine at the church, Ratcliff received one profanity-laced message that said he was foolish to believe Dahmer was a candidate for baptism. However, to his face, Ratcliff received praise. “Can an evil person turn to God? I have to believe that,” Ratcliff said. “What part of the blood of Christ can’t save him, but can save you?”

Over the months, Ratcliff saw a gradual change in Dahmer. He went from a man with a death wish to a man who wanted to help other inmates with Bible study. Dahmer’s father, Lionel, noticed a change in his son as well, Ratcliff said.

But there was a part of Dahmer that remained immature, Ratcliff said, and he believed Dahmer had trouble distinguishing good from bad.

“(At age 34) he was still kind of a little boy yet,” Ratcliff said.

On July 3, 1994, a prisoner from Cuba taped a razor blade to his toothbrush and attacked Dahmer from behind during worship service. Dahmer survived with three cuts. Prison officials assured Ratcliff that great steps would be taken to make sure Dahmer was safe.

But as Dahmer and Jesse Anderson, another convicted murderer from Milwaukee, were doing janitorial duties Nov. 28, 1994, inmate Christopher Scarver used a steel bar from weightlifting gear to bludgeon both men to death, according to the Associated Press. Ratcliff acknowledged that he felt a sense of betrayal.

The Wednesday before his death, Dahmer had given Ratcliff a Thanksgiving Day card thanking him for his friendship. It said he was looking forward to seeing him the next week.

“I didn’t get an inkling he was in danger,” Ratcliff said. “I thought we would be two old men (someday) studying the Bible together. I wasn’t going to give up on him.”

Ratcliff led a memorial service with Dahmer’s family at the Madison church after the murder. A sister of one of Dahmer’s victims attended the service to support Lionel.

Afterward, Ratcliff said, she came up to Lionel and said she thought she could forgive Jeff now.

A decade after Dahmer’s death, Ratcliff still preaches, and now visits seven inmates in four state prisons.

“Because of him I have been involved in more prison work. There’s more of a compassion from me for people in prison settings,” Ratcliff said. “A part of my heart goes out to them.”

Ratcliff doesn’t believe Dahmer realized the impact of his actions and the black mark he left on Wisconsin.

It was Dahmer’s stepmother, Shari, Ratcliff said, who may have captured what Jeff wanted all along. At the memorial service she said, “he wanted to sink into oblivion and to be forgotten forever.”

Craig Spychalla reports for Capital Newspapers. This story is excerpted with permission from the Nov. 28, 1994, issue of the Portage (Wis.) Daily Register.


If in chapter 1, Jonah is like the Prodigal Son, insisting on doing his own thing and going his own way (Luke 15:11-32); then in chapter 4, he’s like the Prodigal’s Elder Brother—critical, selfish, sullen, angry, and unhappy with what was going on. It isn’t enough for God’s servants simply to do their Master’s will; they must do “the will of God from the heart” (Eph. 6:6). The heart of every problem is the problem in the heart, and that’s where Jonah’s problems were to be found. “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry” (Jonah 4:1).

The remarkable thing is that God tenderly dealt with His sulking servant and sought to bring him back to the place of joy and fellowship.

Had Jonah been any other prophet in the history of Israel, he would have been overjoyed with the results of his ministry, the repentance of the great city of Nineveh. Throughout Israel’s history, her prophets had failed to turn the nation to God, and were rejected and even killed by the people. As Stephen put the matter, “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute?” (Acts 7:52a).

In spite of joy at the repentance and salvation of so many, something for which his colleagues would have been overjoyed, Jonah was angry with God: “But it greatly displeased Jonah, and he became angry” (4:1). Why would Jonah have been so angry with God? Jonah is not hesitant to explain, and so he prays this prayer of protest:

“Please LORD, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore, in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that Thou art a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for death is better to me than life” (Jon. 4:2‑3).

God listened to Jonah (Jonah 4:1-4).

For the second time in this account, Jonah prays, but his second prayer was much different in content and intent. He prayed his best prayer in the worst place, the fish’s belly, and he prayed his worst prayer in the best place, at Nineveh where God was working. His first prayer came from a broken heart, but his second prayer came from an angry heart. In his first prayer, he asked God to save him, but in his second prayer, he asked God to take his life! Once again, Jonah would rather die than not have his own way.

This petulant prayer lets us in on the secret of why Jonah tried to run away in the first place. Being a good theologian, Jonah knew the attributes of God, that He was “a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” (v. 2, niv). Knowing this, Jonah was sure that if he announced judgment to the Ninevites and they repented, God would forgive them and not send His judgment, and then Jonah would be branded as a false prophet! Remember, Jonah’s message merely announced the impending judgment; it didn’t offer conditions for salvation.

Jonah was concerned about his reputation, not only before the Ninevites, but also before the Jews back home. His Jewish friends would want to see all of the Assyrians destroyed, not just the people of Nineveh. When Jonah’s friends found out that he had been the means of saving Nineveh from God’s wrath, they could have considered him a traitor to official Jewish foreign policy. Jonah was a narrow-minded patriot who saw Assyria only as a dangerous enemy to destroy, not as a company of repentant sinners to be brought to the Lord.

When reputation is more important than character, and pleasing ourselves and our friends is more important than pleasing God, then we’re in danger of becoming like Jonah and living to defend our prejudices instead of fulfilling our spiritual responsibilities.2-4 Jonah certainly had good theology, but it stayed in his head and never got to his heart; and he was so distraught that he wanted to die!2-5 God’s tender response was to ask Jonah to examine his heart and see why he really was angry.

Jonah’s anger is incredible. Let us take note of what his anger was all about.

(1) Jonah was angry with God. In the final analysis Jonah was not angry with himself, or with men, but with the holy, righteous, perfect God. Jonah’s anger was so intense that he would rather die than live. Having prayed in chapter two that he might live, Jonah prays now that he might die (4:3).

(2) Jonah was angry with God because He acted consistently with His character, and for doing exactly what Jonah expected Him to do.

(3) Jonah was angry with God, protesting those very attributes of God for which the psalmists praised Him. The psalmists of the book of Psalms praise Him for His lovingkindness, His grace, and His mercy (cf. Ps. 86:5, 15), but for Jonah this is grounds for protest rather than praise.

(4) Jonah was angry with God because He showed grace toward the Ninevites. God’s question to Jonah should have served to instruct this prodigal prophet. It should have called Jonah’s attention to the utter sinfulness of being angry with God in the first place. Who can sustain a holy anger against a holy and perfect God? Furthermore, the gentleness of God’s rebuke should have reminded Jonah that He was not only gracious to the Ninevites, but also to Jonah. Indeed, more so, for while the Ninevites had repented, Jonah had not. Jonah persisted in his rebellion.

The Plant and the Prodigal

Because of Jonah’s persistence in maintaining his anger toward God, God presses on with yet another experience for Jonah which will serve to expose the root problem of the prodigal prophet. This is accomplished by means of the giving and the taking away of a plant, which gave Jonah pleasure.

It would seem that the forty days have passed, yet the judgment of God does not fall upon the city of Nineveh. This is no surprise to the reader, but it was a great disappointment to Jonah. Jonah went outside the city, where he made himself a mini‑grandstand, a shady booth from which he could enjoy the spectacle of the destruction of Nineveh, perhaps in a hail of fire and brimstone like that which overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. Here was Jonah, a spectator waiting for disaster to strike, so that he could watch, like the Romans who later would gather at the coliseum to watch the Christians eaten by the lions.

God caused a plant to grow, the shade of which gave Jonah great comfort (4:6). For the first time, Jonah is described as being happy, extremely happy in fact, over the presence of this plant. His happiness was short‑lived, however, for on the following day a divinely appointed worm came to do its work, which resulted in the destruction of the plant. When you stop to think about it, Jonah should have found it easier to identify with the worm than with the plant. He, like the worm, seemed to find greater fulfillment in the destruction of God’s creations than in bringing pleasure, as the plant brought shade and enjoyment to Jonah.

Along with the worm, which brought the demise of the plant, God sent a scorching wind, which caused Jonah great discomfort. While Jonah wanted the Ninevites to be “torched,” he himself was “scorched” by the heat of the wind (4:8). Jonah did not need to be here, and thus did not need to suffer, but he was determined to stay put. He once again begged God to die.

Jonah is angry with God again, now in regard to the plant and the worm. For the second time, God challenged Jonah to consider his anger: “Do you have good reason to be angry about the plant?” (4:9). In no uncertain terms, Jonah reiterated his right to be angry with his God: “I have good reason to be angry, even to death” (4:9).

God comforted Jonah (Jonah 4:9-11).

For the second time in this book, Jonah abandoned his place of ministry, left the city, and sat down in a place east of the city where he could see what would happen. Like the Elder Brother in the parable, he wouldn’t go in and enjoy the feast (Luke 15:28). He could have taught the Ninevites so much about the true God of Israel, but he preferred to have his own way. What a tragedy it is when God’s servants are a means of blessing to others but miss the blessing themselves!

God knew that Jonah was very uncomfortable sitting in that booth, so He graciously caused a vine (gourd) to grow whose large leaves would protect Jonah from the hot sun. This made Jonah happy, but the next morning, when God prepared a worm to kill the vine, Jonah was unhappy. The combination of the hot sun and the smothering desert wind made him want to die even more. As He had done in the depths of the sea, God was reminding Jonah of what it was like to be lost: helpless, hopeless, miserable. Jonah was experiencing a taste of hell as he sat and watched the city.

A simple test of character is to ask, “What makes me happy? What makes me angry? What makes me want to give up?” Jonah was “a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8, nkjv). One minute he’s preaching God’s Word, but the next minute he’s disobeying it and fleeing his post of duty. While inside the great fish, he prayed to be delivered; but now he asks the Lord to kill him. He called the city to repentance, but he wouldn’t repent himself! He was more concerned about creature comforts than he was about winning the lost. The Ninevites, the vine, the worm, and the wind have all obeyed God; but Jonah still refuses to obey, and he has the most to gain.

God instructed Jonah (Jonah 4:9-11).

God is still speaking to Jonah and Jonah is still listening and answering, even though he’s not giving the right answers. Unrighteous anger feeds the ego and produces the poison of selfishness in the heart. Jonah still had a problem with the will of God. In chapter 1, his mind understood God’s will, but he refused to obey it and took his body in the opposite direction. In chapter 2, he cried out for help, God rescued him, and he gave his body back to the Lord. In chapter 3, he yielded his will to the Lord and went to Nineveh to preach, but his heart was not yet surrendered to the Lord. Jonah did the will of God, but not from his heart.

Jonah had one more lesson to learn, perhaps the most important one of all. In chapter 1, he learned the lesson of God’s providence and patience, that you can’t run away from God. In chapter 2, he learned the lesson of God’s pardon, that God forgives those who call upon Him. In chapter 3, he learned the lesson of God’s power as he saw a whole city humble itself before the Lord. Now he had to learn the lesson of God’s pity, that God has compassion for lost sinners like the Ninevites; and His servants must also have compassion.2-6 It seems incredible, but Jonah brought a whole city to faith in the Lord and yet he didn’t love the people he was preaching to!

The people who could not “discern between their right hand and their left hand” (4:11) were immature little children (Deut 1:39), and if there were 120,000 of them in Nineveh and its suburbs, the population was not small. God certainly has a special concern for the children (Mark 10:13-16); but whether children or adults, the Assyrians all needed to know the Lord. Jonah had pity on the vine that perished, but he didn’t have compassion for the people who would perish and live eternally apart from God.

Jeremiah and Jesus looked on the city of Jerusalem and wept over it (Jer. 9:1, 10; 23:9; Luke 19:41), and Paul beheld the city of Athens and “was greatly distressed” (Acts 17:16, niv), but Jonah looked on the city of Nineveh and seethed with anger. He needed to learn the lesson of God’s pity and have a heart of compassion for lost souls.

God has the final word in the book of Jonah. His last words press to the heart of the matter:

“You had compassion on the plant for which you did not work, and which you did not cause to grow, which came up overnight and perished overnight. And should I not have compassion on Nineveh, the great city in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know the difference between their right and left hand, as well as many animals?” (4:10‑11).

By means of the provision of the plant there is at last some common ground between Jonah and God. Jonah had compassion on the plant; God had compassion on the people. Jonah’s “compassion,” like his “psalm,” are inferior. God now presses His point, to show the self‑centered nature of Jonah’s “compassion,” especially when contrasted with His compassion of the people of Nineveh. Consider the following points of contrast between the “compassion” of Jonah for the plant and the compassion of God for people.

(1) Jonah had compassion on a plant; God had compassion on people. Jonah was willing for the entire city to perish in great pain, even though there would be many innocent victims, including 120,000 people and many cattle. Cattle and people suffer pain. There is no evidence that plants do. Jonah had compassion on the plant, but not on people or their cattle.

(2) Jonah had compassion on a plant, in which he had no investment; God had compassion in people, whom He had created, and for whom He had prepared and promised blessing. Jonah had no real relationship with the plant. He had not made it, nor had he contributed to its growth. God created man, and He is the Creator of every creature. God cared for that which He had made, so much so that He purposed to bless men through the offspring of Abraham, so much so that He would send His Son to die for men. Jonah cared for something that cost him nothing.

(3) Jonah had compassion with respect to the demise of a plant; God had compassion with respect to the eternal damnation of people. Jonah had compassion for a plant which existed for a day. Granted, the plant might have lived for a year, perhaps longer. But the judgment of men is for eternity. The “passing” of a plant has no real significance; the death of the people of Nineveh was the outpouring of divine wrath. The eternal judgment and damnation of people is vastly more important than the withering of a plant.

(4) God had compassion on the innocent; Jonah did not. He would have enjoyed watching the destruction of the innocent, along with the guilty. (Remember, it would be the descendants of this generation of Ninevites which would take Israel captive.) It was one thing to want the wicked to suffer for their sins, but totally another to want the innocent to suffer along with the wicked.

(5) Jonah had compassion on himself; God had compassion for others. Jonah’s “compassion” is not really centered on the plant, but rather on what that plant did for him . The plant made him very happy. Had the plant not pleased Jonah, he would have had no compassion toward it at all. Jonah’s compassion was really self‑centered. He cared for himself, but not for others. On the other hand, God cared for people, people who had greatly sinned and who had offended Him.

The Plant and the Point

For a long time, I thought that Jonah’s root problem was selfishness, that he wanted God’s grace for himself and for his people Israel, but not for anyone else, especially the Ninevites. It is my strong conviction now, however, that Jonah’s selfishness was only symptomatic. Jonah’s major grievance with God was His grace. The very nature of grace made it repulsive to Jonah. Let us pause to consider the characteristics of the grace of God which made it offensive to the prodigal prophet.

(1) The Nature and the Origin of Grace. The nature or the essence of grace is unmerited favor—a blessing which is not deserved. The origin or source of the grace Jonah disdained is God. Jonah did not like grace because it was not something which one could earn. One could never feel any sense of accomplishment or ownership, because it is given without cause. To put the matter in plain words, Jonah did not like grace because it was charity.

(2) The Recipients of Grace. The recipients of grace, those to whom grace is bestowed, are those who are undeserving and unworthy. Jonah did not wish to view himself as unworthy. Essentially, Jonah suffered from a large dose of racial pride. He felt that as an Israelite, God was somehow obliged to bless him and his people. The Ninevites, Jonah would gladly concede, were unworthy, which is exactly why Jonah protested against God’s grace shown to them.

(3) The Distribution of Grace. Grace, because it is unmerited, and is bestowed upon those who are unworthy, has no one who can claim it. That is, no one can legitimately feel that he or she has a claim on God’s grace, that there is something they have done or can do which obligates Him to respond with some gift of grace. Since grace is not given out on the basis of merit, it is sovereignly distributed, “just as He wills.” As God put it, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion” (Exod. 33:19).

(4) The Goal of Grace. The goal of grace, the purpose for which it is given, is holiness, not happiness. The plant which God gave to Jonah made him “extremely happy,” we are told (4:6), but it did nothing to make him holy. Thus, God took the plant away. Grace is not given to make us happy, to make us feel good, to give us pleasure, but to bring us into fellowship with Himself.

(5) The Means of Grace. If the goal of grace is to make us holy, then the means of grace include not only those things which are pleasant and comfortable, but also those painful experiences which cause us to turn from our sin and to trust in Him. If we are honest with ourselves and with God, and if we read our Bibles carefully, we must acknowledge that most of us grow spiritually more in painful experiences than in pleasurable ones.

Think about Jonah, for example. God did answer Jonah’s prayer that He would save him from drowning, but not with the most plush and pleasurable means possible. God saved Jonah by means of a great fish, and Jonah got to soak for three days in the stomach juices of that creature. Being vomited onto dry land was not exactly flattering to Jonah’s ego, either, but it was what was best for him. So, too, the shade of the plant was not furthering Jonah’s walk with God, and thus the destruction of the plant and the sweltering sun was given to him instead. God is not committed to our pleasure, but to our piety. Thus, He often uses painful means to bring us to holiness. These painful experiences, just as much as the pleasurable ones, are a gift of God’s grace. Grace is often experienced in the midst of the most unpleasant of experiences.

This explains all that God has done, as well as why Jonah disliked it. God could bestow the grace of salvation on the unworthy Ninevites because grace cannot be merited. Likewise, because grace is sovereignly bestowed, God can provide a plant for Jonah, and then take it away.

Because of these two characteristics of grace, Jonah wanted no part of it, and no part of life. GRACE, TO JONAH, WAS OFFENSIVE AND UNWANTED. It is easy to see why Jonah would resent the fact that God would be gracious to the Ninevites, but how can it be said that Jonah disdained grace, even when shown to him? BECAUSE GRACE IS REQUIRED ONLY BY THE UNDERSERVING, AND JONAH WAS UNWILLING TO ADMIT THAT HE WAS UNDESERVING OF GOD’S BLESSINGS.

How can a prophet protest the gift of forgiveness to the Ninevites? Only by believing that God’s blessing must be merited. How can the prophet protest when God takes away the gracious provision of the plant? Only by supposing that he deserved the plant, by thinking that God owed him the comfort of the plant.

Here, then, is the key to the entire book of Jonah, and to the sin of the nation Israel, which caused God’s people to assume that God owed them blessing and their enemies judgment. Jonah had rejected the principle of grace, exchanging it for a doctrine of works. THE ROOT PROBLEM OF THE PRODIGAL PROPHET WAS SELF‑RIGHTEOUSNESS. The only person who despises grace is the one who thinks that he is righteous. To the self‑righteous, grace is charity, which is demeaning to the recipient.

What Jonah had forgotten was that God’s choice of Israel and His blessing of Israel was due solely to His grace, and not to Israel’s righteousness.

6 “For you are a holy people to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for His own possession out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. 7 The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples, 8 but because the LORD loved you and kept the oath which He swore to your forefathers, the LORD brought you out by a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the LORD your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; 10 but repays those who hate Him to their faces, to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face” (Deut 7:6-10, emphasis mine).


Take careful note of the term “lovingkindness” which is found in verse 9 above, for this is the basis for God’s kindness to Israel, just as it was the basis for God’s kindness to the Ninevites (Jon. 4:2).

God warned the Israelites that when they entered the land of Canaan and began to experience His material blessings, the blessings of His grace, that they would be tempted to take credit for their prosperity:

11 “Beware lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; 12 lest, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, 13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, 14 then your heart becomes proud, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. … 17 Otherwise, you may say in your heart, ‘My power and the strength of my hand made me this wealth.’ 18 But you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who is giving you power to make wealth, that He may confirm His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14, 17-18, emphasis mine).

If this were not ample enough warning, God further warns Israel about taking any credit for their success or for their blessings, which He has given as a gift of His grace:

“Do not say in your heart when the LORD your God has driven them out before you, ‘Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land,’ but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD is dispossessing them before you. It is not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your heart that you are going to possess their land, but it is because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God is driving them out before you, in order to confirm the oath which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Know, then, it is not because of your righteousness that the LORD your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stubborn people” (Deut. 9:4‑6, emphasis mine).

Jonah, and his people, the Israelites, had forgotten that God’s blessings were the product of God’s grace, not the result of Israel’s righteousness or superiority over the Gentiles. They had also forgotten that God had promised to bless all nations through Israel: “And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3b).

Jonah’s prophecy to the nation Israel, as recorded in 2 Kings, was the promise of prosperity, in spite of the nation’s sins. God promised to prosper Israel, not because of its piety, but in spite of its sin.

Look with me once again at this prophecy.

In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel became king in Samaria, and reigned forty‑one years. And he did evil in the sight of the LORD; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel sin. He restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which He spoke through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was of Gath‑hepher. For the LORD saw the affliction of Israel, which was very bitter; for there was neither bond nor free, nor was there any helper for Israel. And the LORD did not say that He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, but He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash (2 Kings 14:23‑27, emphasis mine).

Israel’s king was evil, as were the people. The prosperity which Jonah promised was not due to Israel’s spirituality, but in spite of her sin. The blessings he promised were thus the blessings of divine grace.

Jonah was also the recipient of the grace of God, and yet it is for being gracious that Jonah protests against Him, even to the point of preferring death to life. Jonah’s deliverance by means of the great fish, and his exodus from the fish were all provisions of divine grace. So, too, was the gift of the plant, which afforded him shade and comfort. Perhaps the greatest evidence of the grace of God to Jonah, however, is the way in which God responds to his rebellion and his protests. How easy it would be for us to have read that God burned Jonah to a crisp with a sudden blast of lightening!

Jonah typified Israel in that he no longer viewed God’s blessings as a manifestation of God’s grace to an undeserving people, but rather as the blessings which He was obligated to give a righteous people. No wonder Jonah despised the grace of God. He knew that only the undeserving received grace, and he and his people were not in need of divine handouts. The pride and the self‑righteousness of Jonah and of his people are now glaringly apparent. The reason for the sacking of Israel by the Assyrians is now obvious.

  1. The marvel of an unanswered question (Jonah 4:11)

Jonah and Nahum are the only books in the Bible that end with questions, and both books have to do with the city of Nineveh. Nahum ends with a question about God’s punishment of Nineveh (Nahum 3:19), while Jonah ends with a question about God’s pity for Nineveh.

This is a strange way to end such a dramatic book as the Book of Jonah. God has the first word (Jonah 1:1-2) and God has the last word (4:11), and that’s as it should be, but we aren’t told how Jonah answered God’s final question. It’s like the ending of Frank Stockton’s famous short story “The Lady or the Tiger?” When the handsome youth opened the door, what came out: the beautiful princess or the man-eating tiger?

We sincerely hope that Jonah yielded to God’s loving entreaty and followed the example of the Ninevites by repenting and seeking the face of God. The famous Scottish preacher Alexander Whyte believed that Jonah did experience a change of heart. He wrote, “But Jonah came to himself again during those five-and-twenty days or so, from the east gate of Nineveh back to Gathhepher, his father’s house.”2-7 Spurgeon said, “Let us hope that, during the rest of his life, he so lived as to rejoice in the sparing mercy of God.”2-8 Alter all, hadn’t Jonah himself been spared because of God’s mercy?

God was willing to spare Nineveh but in order to do that, He could not spare His own Son. Somebody had to die for their sins or they would die in their sins. “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). Jesus used Jonah’s ministry to Nineveh to show the Jews how guilty they were in rejecting His witness. “The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here” (Matt 12:41).

How is Jesus greater than Jonah? Certainly Jesus is greater than Jonah in His person, for though both were Jews and both were prophets, Jesus is the very Son of God. He is greater in His message, for Jonah preached a message of judgment, but Jesus preached a message of grace and salvation (John 3:16-17). Jonah almost died for his own sins, but Jesus willingly died for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2).

Jonah’s ministry was to but one city, but Jesus is “the Savior of the world” (John 4:42; 1 John 4:14). Jonah’s obedience was not from the heart, but Jesus always did whatever pleased His Father (John 8:29). Jonah didn’t love the people he came to save, but Jesus had compassion for sinners and proved His love by dying for them on the cross (Rom. 5:6-8). On the cross, outside the city, Jesus asked God to forgive those who killed Him (Luke 23:34), but Jonah waited outside the city to see if God would kill those he would not forgive.

Yes, Jesus is greater than Jonah, and because He is, we must give greater heed to what He says to us. Those who reject Him will face greater judgment because the greater the light, the greater the responsibility.

The book of Jonah does not end nicely and neatly, with a “happily ever after” feeling. Far from it. We are left somewhat suspended by the final words of God to Jonah, words of rebuke. We are never told that Jonah repented. The reason is simple, I believe. It is because there was no final solution to the sin of self‑righteousness and to the waywardness of the nation Israel apart from the new covenant and the coming of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus Christ. The conclusion of the book of Jonah is fitting, for it portrays the stalemate between Israel and her God which persisted till the time of Christ and indeed to the present moment. The last book of the Old Testament, the book of Malachi, is a record of Israel’s belligerent argumentation with God, who is accusing the nation of sin:

The oracle of the word of the LORD to Israel through Malachi. “I have loved you,” says the LORD. But you say, “How have You loved us?” “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the LORD. “Yet I have loved Jacob” (Mal. 1:1‑2, emphasis mine).

In the final analysis, this hardness of heart will persist until the Great Tribulation and the return of Messiah breaks the stubborn pride and will of His chosen people, who will be finally saved, not because of their righteousness, but by His grace.

Jonah’s Self-Righteousness and the Israelites of Jesus’ Day

Not only did Jonah typify the spiritual state of Israel in his own day, he also prototyped the self‑righteousness of many Israelites, especially the religious leaders, at the time of the first coming of Christ. When our Lord was born, it was not to the religious elite that His birth was made known, but to the humble and the meek (cf. Luke 2). This was indicated in the magnificat of Mary (Luke 1:46‑55). The coming of the Christ was for the Gentiles (Luke 2:31‑32), as well as for the Jews, and so the magi were informed of His birth and came to worship Him (Matt. 2:1ff.). Our Lord’s introduction of His ministry in Luke chapter 4 (esp. vv. 16‑21) indicated this same emphasis on Christ’s coming to the poor and the oppressed. The Sermon on the Mount gives similar testimony to the recipients of God’s grace.

When Jesus commenced His ministry, much of His time and energy was devoted to “sinners,” which brought an immediate reaction from the religious elite of Israel, the scribes and Pharisees:

And when the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax-gatherers, they began saying to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax-gatherers and sinners?” (Mark 2:16).

Why would the scribes and Pharisees be offended by the fact that Jesus spent more time with “sinners” than with them? For the same reason that Jonah was angry with God. The religious leaders felt that they were worthy of Jesus’ time and presence, and that the “sinners” deserved nothing but the wrath of God (cp. John 8:2‑11). They despised the Gentiles and even the masses of Israelites (cf. John 7:49).

Why did the scribes and Pharisees react so vehemently to the teaching of Jesus? Because He exposed them as sinners, and they were not willing to admit this. They were self‑righteous. Thus, they rejected God’s Messiah and instigated His death on that Roman cross.

Even the disciples of our Lord seemed, like Jonah, to be eager to have the “heathen” perish at the hand of God:

52 … And they went, and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make arrangements for Him. 53 And they did not receive Him, because He was journeying with His face toward Jerusalem. 54 And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:52b-54).

Later, after our Lord’s death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, it was the Jews who opposed the proclamation of the gospel (cf. Acts 22:19‑23). Even Christian Jews drug their feet in the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles (cf. Acts 10‑11, esp. 11:19). Because some Jewish Christians felt superior to Gentile believers, they either segregated themselves or they sought to force the Gentiles to conform to their Jewish practices (e.g. Acts 15:1; Gal. 2:11ff.). Truly Jonah’s self‑righteousness typified a tendency among Israelites which has continued on throughout the centuries.


The book of Jonah has much to say to 21th century Christians, as well as to Israelites of all ages. Let me conclude by pointing out a number of points of application to our lives today.

(1) God’s dealings with men have always been on the basis of His grace, and not on the basis of man’s works. Dispensationalists (among whom I would include myself) must be very careful to avoid giving the impression that God deals with men today by means of grace, and dealt with people in the Old Testament by some other means. The distinction of this “age” as “the age of grace” tends to imply that God dealt with men according to some other principle in the Old Testament. Jonah was wrong because he forgot or had forsaken the principle of grace. God has always dealt with men according to the principle of grace. The New Testament and the new covenant simply enable God to bestow His grace more freely and fully. Let us never view God’s past dealings with men as anything less than gracious.

(2) Resisting and rejecting the grace of God are just as great and just as common a sin today as they were in Jonah’s time. Christians become angry with God today, and for the same wrong reasons as Jonah. We are just not as open and honest as Jonah to admit it. When do Christians get angry with God?

  • Whenever we think we deserve something from God and we find Him guilty for not giving it to us.
  • Whenever we think someone else to be unworthy, and we are angry with God for giving them blessings they don’t deserve.
  • Whenever God takes away some blessing from us, which we think He has no right to remove.
  • Whenever we are self‑righteous.

I believe that self‑righteousness had deeply penetrated the Christian community in America. Americans are very inclined to take credit for our prosperity. We believe that we have been “blessed” due to our intelligence, our ingenuity, our hard work, and our devotion to God. Conversely, we excuse ourselves from sharing our wealth and prosperity with others by convincing ourselves that other nations suffer poverty because they lack the righteousness which we have. Thus, while the nation India lavishes in poverty and starvation, we assure ourselves that their poverty is the result of their worship of cows. Simple, isn’t it? But in the final analysis, it is self‑righteous.

Some Christians today view divine healing as a result of one’s righteousness than as a gift of God’s grace. I do not wish to argue whether there is a gift of healing today; I am willing to grant that God does heal. What I wish to vehemently reject is the contention that God must heal, if we but have the faith to claim it. Is divine healing a gift of God’s grace? If it is, then it is undeserved, not earned, even by “having faith.” Is healing a gift of grace? Then God is free to give it to whomever He chooses, to a believer or an unbeliever, and He is also free to withhold it from one who asks for it, or claims it in faith. We don’t demand grace, nor do we dare to protest when we don’t receive what makes us happy (remember Jonah’s plant).

Let us remember, too, that God’s grace does not always come in the form which we might choose or prefer. God was gracious to Jonah, saving him by means of the great fish. Had Jonah been able to choose which form the grace of God would have taken, it wouldn’t have been in the form of a fish’s stomach. God is gracious to His children by chastising them, by bringing pain and adversity into their lives, just as He was going to do in the history of Israel. Adversity is just as much a gift of grace as is affluence. Remember the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount!

Job understood that God was both good and gracious, whether He gave prosperity or took it away, whether He gave pleasure or pain. Thus, when he received word of the loss of his family he responded, “The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21).

Failure, suffering, and adversity are often the result of God’s grace, for when these things come into the life of the Christian they are for the purpose of displaying the grace of God, to us, to others, and even to the heavenly host.

The principle of grace, by which we are saved, is the governing principle of God’s dealing in all of our lives, whether He shows Himself to be gracious in bestowing wealth or health, or whether He shows Himself to be gracious in our hour of trial, by sustaining us and drawing us to a deeper trust and intimacy with Him.

The principle of grace is also to govern our relationship with others. Just as God is gracious to us, so we must be gracious to others, especially to the undeserving: the cruel and those who are our enemies, who would persecute and despitefully use us. Only by showing grace to others do we reflect God’s grace to us.

(3) The book of Jonah has much to teach us about evangelism and revival, which we desperately need in America. I believe that the book of Jonah informs that the following elements are required for revival. These are not the only elements necessary for revival, but they are essential:

Revival requires those who will go and who will warn the lost of the impending wrath of God on sinners. A deep conviction of sin and the motivation to be saved is rooted in the proclamation of the fact that men are sinners, destined to face the wrath of God.

Revival requires genuine repentance. There was revival in the city of Nineveh because men turned from their wicked ways. They not only confessed their sin, they turned from it. Revival requires repentance, and repentance requires change.

Furthermore, the book of Jonah confronts us with what is perhaps the foremost enemy of evangelism and revival—a smug self‑righteousness which detests the grace of God, and which expects and demands God’s blessings for us, but not for others. It was Israel’s self‑righteousness, pride, and selfishness which kept God’s people from sharing the blessings of God with the Gentiles. Likewise, I believe that it is our self‑righteousness, pride, and selfishness which hinders us from telling the lost of the salvation which God offers all who repent and who believe on His Son for salvation.

Imagine, for example, that God called you to devote your life to finding a cure for AIDS, or to give your life in ministry to the victims of AIDS. ‘But they deserve to die,’ you protest. The fact is that many suffer from AIDS apart from any willful act of sin on their part—an immoral spouse, a contaminated blood transfusion, an infant whose parent was infected.…

Many of us are just like Jonah.  We are eager to condemn those suffering from AIDS as a whole, even though there are many innocent victims among them. Jonah was willing, indeed eager, to see the entire city of Nineveh perish, even though there were 120,000 innocent children among them, and animals as well. Jonah was not just seeking divine judgment for guilty sinners; he was condemning the innocent along with the wicked. (To Jonah, their “real sin” was that of being Gentiles. And by this standard, all Ninevites should perish, according to the prodigal prophet.)  The fact is that the wicked repented of their sin when the prophet proclaimed God’s Word to that city.  God was not only eager to save the innocent, but to save the guilty as well.  Not so with Jonah.

All sinners deserve to die (the wages of sin is death), which includes every one of us. Isn’t it amazing that the sin of sexual immorality is (or at least was) readily condemned by Christians, but pride and self-righteousness are often tolerated, and sometimes even praised (a “good self-image”).  We must remember that our Lord came to seek and to save the lost—those whom the self-righteous religious leaders disdained and avoided. Apart from his saving grace, we are all sinners, who deserve God’s wrath and should be cast out of the presence of a holy and righteous God.  Surely those who have become the recipients of God’s grace should be the first to seek to show and to share that grace to others.

(4) God’s grace has come to men in Jesus Christ. The grace of God has been revealed to men in the person of Jesus Christ, who promises all who will believe the gracious gift of eternal life. All you need to do is to acknowledge that you need it, that you are a sinner who can never merit God’s blessings, and to receive God’s gift of grace in Jesus Christ. It is by faith in Jesus Christ that our sins are forgiven and we are declared righteous in God’s sight. It is by faith in Christ that we receive the gracious gift of eternal life.

There is no word that better sums up the goodness of God to men than the word “grace.” Jesus Christ is God’s grace personified, sent to men (cf. John 1:14, 17; 2 Tim. 1:9; 2:1; Titus 2:11). Salvation is God’s grace to sinful men, the forgiveness of sins and the provision of eternal life (cf. Acts 14:13; 20:24, 32; Romans 1:5; 3:24; Ephesians 2:8; Colossians 1:6; Titus 3:7; 1 Peter 5:12). We grow in and by means of God’s grace (2 Peter 3:18; Hebrews 13:9). We are eternally secure in the grace of God (Romans 5:12). When we pray we approach the “throne of grace” (Heb. 4:16). When we serve, we serve by grace (Eph. 4:7ff.; 1 Peter 4:10), and we live by the standards of grace (Ephesians 4:29; Colossians 4:6).

But the real issue isn’t how Jonah answered God’s question; the real issue is how you and l today are answering God’s question. Do we agree with God that people without Christ are lost? Like God, do we have compassion for those who are lost? How do we show this compassion? Do we have a concern for those in our great cities where there is so much sin and so little witness? Do we pray that the Gospel will go to people in every part of the world, and are we helping to send it there? Do we rejoice when sinners repent and trust the Savior?

All of those questions and more are wrapped up in what God asked Jonah.

We can’t answer for him, but we can answer for ourselves. Let’s give God the right answer.

May the grace of God be precious to you, the basis for your praise of God, not your protest, as it was with Jonah.


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Posted by on June 16, 2022 in Encounters with God


Encounters With God: Jonah, The Prodigal Prophet: Running to/with God – Jonah 2-3

The Book of Jonah — God's Character and Human response. | by Chesvic  Lordgape | Medium

Sometimes the prophets of the Lord tried to challenge His wisdom in calling them for divine service (see Moses in Ex. 4; Jeremiah in Jer. 1). However, Jonah is the only case in the record of Scripture where a true prophet of the Lord (see 2 Kin. 14:25) tried hard to thwart the will of God by fleeing from the task that God had given him (1:3).

There is something humorous in this account. How could a prophet of God hide from the Creator of the universe? The location of Tarshish may have been the southeast coast of Spain. In any case it represents the farthest place known to the people of ancient Israel. It is similar to going “to the ends of the earth.”

From an experience of rebellion and discipline, Jonah turns to an experience of repentance and dedication, and God graciously gives him a new beginning. Jonah no doubt expected to die in the waters of the sea,1-10 but when he woke up inside the fish, he realized that God had graciously spared him. As with the Prodigal Son, whom Jonah in his rebellion greatly resembles (Luke 15:11-24), it was the goodness of God that brought him to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Notice the stages in Jonah’s spiritual experience as described in his prayer.

He prayed for God’s help (Jonah 2:1-2).

 From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. {2} He said: “In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry.

It may be asked, “How could Jonah either pray or breathe in the stomach of the fish?” Very easily, if God so willed it. And let the reader keep this constantly in view; the whole is a miracle, from Jonah’s being swallowed by the fish till he was cast ashore by the same animal. It was God that had prepared the great fish. It was the Lord that spake to the fish, and caused it to vomit Jonah upon the dry land. All is miracle.

His prayer was born out of affliction, not affection. He cried out to God because he was in danger, not because he delighted in the Lord. But better that he should pray compelled by any motive than not to pray at all. It’s doubtful whether any believer always prays with pure and holy motives, for our desires and God’s directions sometimes conflict.

God heard Jonah’s cries for help. Prayer is one of the constant miracles of the Christian life. To think that our God is so great He can hear the cries of millions of people at the same time and deal with their needs personally! A parent with two or three children often finds it impossible to meet all their needs all the time, but God is able to provide for all His children, no matter where they are or what their needs may be.

He accepted God’s discipline (Jonah 2:3).

{3} You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me.

It wasn’t the sailors who cast Jonah into the stormy sea: it was God. “You hurled me into the deep . . . all Your waves and breakers swept over me” (v. 3, niv, italics mine). When Jonah said those words, he was acknowledging that God was disciplining him and that he deserved it.

Jonah’s use of the pronouns You and Your in this verse are not accusations, but acknowledgments of the Lord’s sovereign control of his life (see Ps. 88:6–18).

How we respond to discipline determines how much benefit we receive from it According to Hebrews 12:5-11, we have several options: we can despise God’s discipline and fight (v. 5); we can be discouraged and faint (v. 5); we can resist discipline and invite stronger discipline, possibly even death (v. 9)1-11; or we can submit to the Father and mature in faith and love (v. 7).

Discipline is to the believer what exercise and training are to the athlete (v. 11); it enables us to run the race with endurance and reach the assigned goal (vv. 1-2).

The fact that God chastened His servant is proof that Jonah was truly a child of God, for God disciplines only His own children.

He trusted God’s promise (Jonah 2:4-7).

{4} I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ {5} The engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. {6} To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit, O LORD my God. {7} “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple.

I will look again toward Your holy temple: The man who had run from God’s presence (1:3) was alone, yet he clung to the hope that God would not abandon him. The temple, the sanctuary in Jerusalem was the symbol of God’s presence.

Jonah was going in one direction only—down. In fact, he had been going in that direction since the hour he rebelled against God’s plan for his life. He went “down to Joppa” and “down into the sides of the ship” (1:3, 5). Now he was going “down to the bottoms of the mountains” (2:6); and at some point, the great fish met him, and he went down into the fish’s belly (1:17). When you turn your back on God, the only direction you can go is down.

What saved Jonah? His faith in God’s promise. Which promise? The promise that involves “looking toward God’s holy temple” (2:4, 7

By faith, he looked toward God’s temple (the only way to look was up!) and asked God to deliver him; and God kept His promise and answered his call. “I remembered [the] Lord” (Jonah 2:7) means, “I acted on the basis of His commitment to me.” Jonah knew God’s covenant promises and he claimed them.

I remembered: Jonah reaffirms his faith in the Lord and renews his commitment to Him (see Ps. 22:27; 63:6; 106:7).

He yielded to God’s will (Jonah 2:8-9).

{8} “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. {9} But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.”

Now Jonah admits that there were idols in his life that robbed him of the blessing of God. An idol is anything that takes away from God the affection and obedience that rightfully belong only to Him.

Jonah closes his prayer by uttering some solemn vows to the Lord, vows that he really intended to keep. Jonah promised to worship God in the temple with sacrifices and songs of thanksgiving. He doesn’t tell us what other promises he made to the Lord, but one of them surely was,” I will go to Nineveh and declare Your message if You give me another chance.”

  1. Redemption (Jonah 2:10)

(Jonah 2:10)  And the LORD commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.

The focus in the story of Jonah is on the Lord’s sovereign control over creation to bring about His purpose.

The sign (Matt. 12:39; 16:4; Luke 11:29).

The “sign of Jonah” is seen in his experience of “death,” burial, and resurrection on the third day, and it was the only sign Jesus gave to the nation of Israel. At Pentecost, Peter preached the Resurrection (Acts 2:22-26) and so did Paul when he preached to the Jews in other nations (13:26-37). In fact, the emphasis in the Book of Acts is on the resurrection of Jesus Christ; for the apostles were “witnesses of the Resurrection” (2:32; 3:15; 5:32; 10:39).

Some students are troubled by the phrase “three days and three nights,” especially since both Scripture and tradition indicate that Jesus was crucified on Friday.

To the Jews, a part of a day was treated as a whole day; and we need not interpret “three days and three nights” to mean seventy-two hours to the very second. For that matter, we can’t prove that Jonah was in the fish exactly seventy-two hours. The important things is that centuries after the event, Jonah became a “sign” to the Jewish people and pointed them to Jesus Christ.

Running With God – Jonah 3

  1. The marvel of an undeserved commission (Jonah 3:1-2)

God met Jonah.

We don’t know where the great fish deposited Jonah, but we do know that wherever Jonah was, the Lord was there. Remember, God is more concerned about His workers than He is about their work, for if the workers are what they ought to be, the work will be what it ought to be.

Throughout Jonah’s time of rebellion, God was displeased with His servant, but He never once deserted him. It was God who controlled the storm, prepared the great fish, and rescued Jonah from the deep.

God Spoke to Jonah.

After the way Jonah had stubbornly refused to obey God’s voice, it’s a marvel that the Lord spoke to him at all. Jonah had turned his back on God’s word, so the Lord had been forced to speak to him through thunder and rain and a stormy sea. But now that Jonah had confessed his sins and turned back to the Lord, God could once again speak to him through His word.

God commissioned Jonah.

“The victorious Christian life,” said George H. Morrison, “is a series of new beginnings.” When we fall, the enemy wants us to believe that our ministry is ended and there’s no hope for recovery, but our God is the God of the second chance. “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time” (Jonah 3:1).

God challenged Jonah.

Four times in this book, Nineveh is called a “great city” (1:2; 3:2-3; 4:11),2-2 and archeologists tell us that the adjective is well-deserved. It was great in history, having been founded in ancient times by Noah’s great-grandson Nimrod (Gen. 10:8-10).2-3 It was also great in size. The circumference of the city and its suburbs was sixty miles, and from the Lord’s statement in Jonah 4:11, we could infer that there were probably over 600,000 people living there. One wall of the city had a circumference of eight miles and boasted 1,500 towers.

The city was great in splendor and influence, being one of the leading cities of the powerful Assyrian Empire.

Nineveh was great in sin, for the Assyrians were known far and wide for their violence, showing no mercy to their enemies. They impaled live victims on sharp poles, leaving them to roast to death in the desert sun; they beheaded people by the thousands and stacked their skulls up in piles by the city gates; and they even skinned people alive. They respected neither age nor sex and followed a policy of killing babies and young children so they wouldn’t have to care for them (Nahum 3:10).

The will of God will never lead you where the grace of God can’t keep you and the power of God can’t use you.

Jonah’s Preaching and Nineveh’s Repentance (3:1‑9)

For the second time, the “word of the Lord” came to Jonah: “Arise, go to Nineveh the great city and proclaim to it the proclamation which I am going to tell you” (vs. 2). It is not a new command that Jonah is given, but almost a repetition of the command given to him in chapter 1. This time Jonah obeyed, not joyfully or with a proper attitude, as we shall soon see, but at least Jonah went to Nineveh.

The population of the city of Nineveh, perhaps including its “suburbs,” was exceedingly large (cf. 1:2; 3:2; 4:11). We also know that the city was great in size. The city was described as being a “three days’ walk” (3:3).

Jonah’s message was simple, to the point, and frightening: “Yet forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (3:4).[1]

  1. The marvel of an unparalleled awakening (Jonah 3:3-10)

From a human perspective, this entire enterprise appears ridiculous. How could one man, claiming to be God’s prophet, confront thousands of people with his strange message, especially a message of judgment? How could a Jew, who worshiped the true God, ever get these idolatrous Gentiles to believe what he had to say? For all he knew, Jonah might end up impaled on a pole or skinned alive! But, in obedience to the Lord, Jonah went to Nineveh.

Jonah’s message to Nineveh (Jonah 3:3-4).

“Three days’ journey” means either that it would take three days to get through the city and its suburbs or three days to go around them. The niv translation of verse 3 suggests that it would take three days to visit all of the area. According to Genesis 10:11-12, four cities were involved in the “Nineveh metroplex”: Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, and Resen (niv). However you interpret the “three days,” one thing is dear: Nineveh was no insignificant place.

When Jonah was one day into the city, he began to declare his message: “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be over-thrown.”

At this point, we must confess that we wish we knew more about Jonah’s ministry to Nineveh. Was this the only message he proclaimed? Surely he spent time telling the people about the true and living God, for we’re told, “The people of Nineveh believed God” (Jonah 3:5).

They would have to know something about this God of Israel in order to exercise sincere faith. Did Jonah expose the folly of their idolatry? Did he recount his own personal history to show them that his God was powerful and sovereign? We simply don’t know. The important thing is that Jonah obeyed God, went to Nineveh, and declared the message God gave him. God did the rest.

Nineveh’s message to God (Jonah 3:5-9).

In the Hebrew text, there are only five words in Jonah’s message; yet God used those five words to stir the entire population, from the king on the throne to the lowest peasant in the field.

God gave the people forty days of grace, but they didn’t need that long. We get the impression that from the very first time they saw Jonah and heard his warning, they paid attention to his message. Word spread quickly throughout the entire district and the people humbled themselves by fasting and wearing sackcloth.

When the message got to the king, he too put on sackcloth and sat in the dust. He also made the fast official by issuing an edict and ordering the people to humble themselves, cry out to God, and turn from their evil ways. The people were to cry “mightily” (“urgently,” niv) to God, for this was a matter of life and death.

Like the sailors in the storm, the Ninevites didn’t want to perish (Jonah 3:9; 1:6, 14). That’s what witnessing is all about, “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, nkjv).

Their fasting and praying, and their humbling of themselves before God, sent a message to heaven, but the people of Nineveh had no assurance that they would be saved. They hoped that God’s great compassion would move Him to change His plan and spare the city. Once again, how did they know that the God of the Hebrews was a merciful and compassionate God? No doubt Jonah told them, for this was a doctrine he himself believed (Jonah 4:2).

He began by personally repenting (3:6). The king then made a proclamation which required all of Nineveh to fast, and to abstain from drinking water (3:7). Both men and animals were to be covered with sackcloth, and all the people were to call upon God and to abstain from their wicked ways and their violence (3:8).

If the Ninevites had but 40 days left, why would they cease sinning? One would think that they might be inclined to act in accordance with the expression, “Eat, drink, and make merry, for tomorrow (or 40 days) we may die.” Nineveh’s motivation for putting off the wickedness of the city is described in verse 9: “Who knows, God may turn and relent, and withdraw His burning anger so that we shall not perish?” (3:9).

God’s message to Nineveh (Jonah 3:10).

At some point, God spoke to Jonah and told Him that He had accepted the people’s repentance and would not destroy the city. The phrase “God repented” might better be translated “God relented,” that is, changed His plan.

From the human point of view, it looked like repentance, but from the divine perspective, it was simply God’s response to man’s change of heart God is utterly consistent with Himself; it only appears that He is changing His mind. The Bible uses human analogies to reveal the divine character of God (Jer. 18:1-10).

How deep was the spiritual experience of the people of Nineveh? If repentance and faith are the basic conditions of sal

God took note of Nineveh’s repentance, something which involved more than mere words or token gestures. Verse 10 does not tell us that God heeded the words of the Ninevites, or even that He regarded their sackcloth and ashes, but that He took note that their deeds had changed, that they had “turned from their wicked way.” Here is genuine repentance. No mere words of regret, no trite, “I’m sorry,” but a change of conduct signaling a genuine change of heart. Nineveh had truly repented of her evil ways, and God therefore relented of the calamity which He had threatened.

[1] The word “overthrown” had strong connotations for Jonah. This term was used in connection with the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 19:21, 25, 29). It was also used in the poetic description of the overthrow of the Egyptians at the exodus (Ex. 15:7). It was also used in Deuteronomy 29:23 in connection with God’s warning of judgment on His people Israel, if they disregard His law. Cf. also 2 Sam. 10:3; 1 Chron. 19:3.

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Posted by on June 13, 2022 in Encounters with God


Encounters With God: Jonah, The Prodigal Prophet, An Introduction — Jonah 1

Jonah in His Time

Those who consider the Book of Jonah an allegory or a parable should note that 2 Kings 14:25 identifies Jonah as a real person, a Jewish prophet from Gath Hepher in Zebulun who ministered in the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 B.C.). They should also note that our Lord considered Jonah a historic person and pointed to him as a type of His own death, burial, and resurrection. (Matt. 12:42; Luke 11:32).

The reign of Jeroboam II was a time of great prosperity in Israel; the nation regained lost territory and expanded both its boundaries and influence. But it was a time of moral and spiritual decay as the nation rapidly moved away from God and into idolatry. Jonah’s contemporaries Hosea and Amos both courageously denounced the wickedness of the rulers, priests, and people. It’s worth noting that Hosea and Amos also showed God’s concern for other nations, which is one of the major themes of Jonah.

While Jonah had a ministry to Nineveh, a leading city in Assyria, he also had a ministry to Israel through this little book. He discovered God’s compassion for those outside Israel, even those who were their enemies. God had called His people to be a blessing to the Gentiles (Gen. 12:1-3), but, like Jonah, the Jews refused to obey. And, like Jonah, they had to be disciplined; for Assyria would conquer Israel and Babylon would take Judah into captivity. Jonah’s book magnifies the sovereignty of God as well as the love and mercy of God. Jehovah is the “God of the second chance,” even for rebellious prophets.

Psa. 139:7-11 (NIV) Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,”

Most people are so familiar with the story of Jonah that nothing in it surprises them anymore, including the fact that it begins with the word “and.” If I opened one of my books with the word “and,” the editor would probably wonder if something had been lost, including my ability to use the English language.

Jonah is one of fourteen Old Testament books that open with the little word “and.” These books remind us of God’scontinued storyof grace and mercy. Though it’s comprised of sixty-six different books, the Bible tells only one story; and God keeps communicating that message to us, even though we don’t always listen too attentively. How long-suffering He is toward us!

What is the Book of Jonah about? Well, it’s not simply about a great fish (mentioned only four times…3 verses out of a total of 84!), or a great city (named nine times), or even a disobedient prophet (mentioned eighteen times.) It’s about God! God is mentioned 38 times in these four short chapters, and if you eliminated Him from the book, the story wouldn’t make sense. The Book of Jonah is about the will of God and how we respond to it. It’s also about the love of God and how we share it with others.

The narrative of Jonah seduces the reader into thinking of it as a simple fable, with the account of the great fish as the dramatic, if implausible, high point. Careful readers, however, find it to be an ingenious and artfully crafted work of literature. Its four chapters recount two incidents. In chapters 1 and 2 Jonah is given a command from God but fails to obey it; and in chapters 3 and 4 he is given the command again and this time carries it out. The two accounts are laid out in almost completely parallel patterns.


SCENE 1 Jonah, the pagans, and the sea

SCENE 2 Jonah, the pagans, and the city


1:1 God’s Word comes to Jonah          3:1 God’s Word comes to Jonah

1:2 The message to be conveyed         3:2 The message to be conveyed

1:3 The response of Jonah                   3:3 The response of Jonah


1:4 The word of warning              3:4 The word of warning

1:5 The response of the pagans     3:5 The response of the pagans

1:6 The response of the pagan leader    3:6 The response of the pagan leader

1:7ff How the pagans’ response was ultimately better than Jonah’s

3:7ff How the pagans’ response was ultimately better than Jonah’s



2:1–10 How God taught grace to Jonah through the fish

4:1–10 How God taught grace to Jonah through the plant

Despite the literary sophistication of the text, many modern readers still dismiss the work because the text tells us that Jonah was saved from the storm when swallowed by a “great fish” (Jonah 1:17). How you respond to this will depend on how you read the rest of the Bible. If you accept the existence of God and the resurrection of Christ (a far greater miracle), then there is nothing particularly difficult about reading Jonah literally. Certainly many people today believe all miracles are impossible, but that skepticism is just that—a belief that itself cannot be proven.  Not only that, but the text does not show evidence of the author having made up the miracle account. A fiction writer ordinarily adds supernatural elements in order to create excitement or spectacle and to capture reader attention, but this writer doesn’t capitalize on the event at all in that way. The fish is mentioned only in two brief verses and there are no descriptive details. It is reported more as a simple fact of what happened. So let’s not get distracted by the fish.

The careful structure of the book reveals nuances of the author’s message. Both episodes show how Jonah, a staunch religious believer, regards and relates to people who are racially and religiously different from him. The book of Jonah yields many insights about God’s love for societies and people beyond the community of believers; about his opposition to toxic nationalism and disdain for other races; and about how to be “in mission” in the world despite the subtle and unavoidable power of idolatry in our own lives and hearts. Grasping these insights can make us bridge builders, peacemakers, and agents of reconciliation in the world. Such people are the need of the hour.

Yet to understand all of these lessons for our social relationships, we have to see that the book’s main teaching is not sociological but theological. Jonah wants a God of his own making, a God who simply smites the bad people, for instance, the wicked Ninevites and blesses the good people, for instance, Jonah and his countrymen. When the real God —not Jonah’s counterfeit—keeps showing up, Jonah is thrown into fury or despair. Jonah finds the real God to be an enigma because he cannot reconcile the mercy of God with his justice. How, Jonah asks, can God be merciful and forgiving to people who have done such violence and evil? How can God be both merciful and just?

That question is not answered in the book of Jonah. As part of the entire Bible, however, the book of Jonah is like a chapter that drives the Scripture’s overall plotline forward. It teaches us to look ahead to how God saved the world through the one who called himself the ultimate Jonah (Matthew 12:41) so that he could be both just and the justifier of those who believe (Romans 3:26). Only when we readers fully grasp this gospel will we be neither cruel exploiters like the Ninevites nor Pharisaical believers like Jonah, but rather Spirit-changed, Christ-like women and men.

Many students of the book have noticed that in the first half Jonah plays the “prodigal son” of Jesus’s famous parable (Luke 15:11–24), who ran from his father. In the second half of the book, however, Jonah is like the “older brother” (Luke 15:25–32), who obeys his father but berates him for his graciousness to repentant sinners. The parable ends with a question from the father to the Pharisaical son, just as the book of Jonah ends with a question to the Pharisaical prophet.


Why should we study the book of Jonah?

  1. Because it is God’s inspired word. All scripture is worthy of serious study because of its origin – it comes directly from God!

(2 Tim 3:16-17)  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, {17} so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

This study will enable us to become completely furnished for every good work. It will enlighten us concerning instruction which is in righteousness. It will be profitable for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training.

The Old Testament scriptures are a valuable source of study for modern believers:

(Rom 15:4)  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

  1. Because it is relevant to our modern needs. Have you ever been angry with God? Have you ever allowed your personal feelings to become a wall between you and another? Have you ever become so disgusted that you just wished you would die? Have you ever sunk to the depths of self-pity? How often have you relied upon your directions instead of God’s directions for your life? Jonah was a man who experienced anger, resentment, prejudice, inflated trust in self-direction, discouragement, self-pity, joy, faith in God and a host of other emotions.
  2. It presents us not only a true picture of ourselves, but also a clear picture of our great and glorious God in heaven. Jonah thought he had a good idea of who God was and what He was like, but as we read the book we see that Jonah conceived of God only what he wanted and not as God really was (again a problem which we all share in common if we are honest):
  • God is the great Creator of the world
  • He’s in control of everything, even using the natural elements to achieve His ultimate will
  • He’s pictured as One who delivers the penitent, no matter who they are
  • He cares for all His creatures…pagan seamen and inhabitants of Nineveh just as much as He does Jonah
  • He is pictured as a God of goodness…refuting modern thinking that “God of Old Testament is bad and God of New Testament good”
  • God’s heart is large enough to care for all; His hand is adept at providing for all needs

(Acts 10:34-35)  Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism {35} but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.

(Rom 3:29)  Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too,

We all have stereotypes, and many of these should probably be shattered as well. Jonah is a prophet who does not fit into the stereotypical mold of our thinking when it comes to a prophet of God. He is decidedly different from the other prophets which we find in the Scriptures.[1] The Book of Jonah is written to shatter the stereotype which we have of prophets, especially the prophet Jonah.

Jonah is unique in several ways. First, Jonah is a prophet more by what he is and does than by what he says. Given the biblical content of Jonah’s words as recorded in Scripture, we would have difficulty making a paragraph out of his prophetic messages. (His protests would add more words, but they are not direct words of prophecy. They are more pathetic than prophetic.) Jonah was a man of very few words, but his works, his deeds, were highly prophetic.

The Book of Hosea portrayed Gomer as a picture of Israel, and Hosea, her husband, as a reflection of God. Joel used the plague of locusts to prophesy of the coming of the armies of Israel’s enemies, who would swarm into the land in judgment. So, too, Jonah was a graphic representation of the nation Israel. Just as Jonah received a clear command from God and disobeyed, so Israel was characterized by her disobedience to the commandments which God had given through Moses.

Prophecy is much more than verbal proclamation; it is often dramatization. The Book of Jonah dramatizes the sad spiritual state of Israel, a condition which was reflected in her disobedience to God’s commands and to her divine calling, a condition which would require divine discipline.

Second, Jonah was the only prophet who is recorded as having run away from God. Jonah is not known for his piety, but for his prodigality. Jonah, in his rebellion and disobedience, in his hardness of heart, was a man who typified the rebellion of the nation Israel. As the Lord said to Moses, centuries earlier, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people” (Exod. 32:9).

Third, Jonah is a prophet who is unique not only by his waywardness, but also because the book never portrays him as having repented and as having been restored to the “joy of his salvation.” We see the failures of many men in the Old Testament, but usually these men come to the point of repentance and restoration. David sinned greatly, but he repented. Abraham, Jacob, and Elijah, all had their times of failure, but they grew to maturity, to faith and obedience. Such is not the case with Jonah. Other than the likely possibility that Jonah was the author of this prophecy, we would have little basis for assuming that Jonah ever repented.

It is at this point that I must inform you that I do not see any repentance in Jonah in this short book. Our predisposition to the “pious bias,” that tendency to assume that Old Testament saints must have been doing the right thing for the right reasons—a great fallacy—is very evident in the Book of Jonah. Most all of the commentaries want to see Jonah repenting somewhere in the book, some as early as chapter 1. Frankly, I do not see any repentance, which I think is one of the significant lessons of the book. Beware of making excuses for Jonah. The book is intended to cause the reader to feel more empathy for the pagan (the sailors in chapter 1, the Ninevites in chapters 3 and 4 than for this prodigal prophet.

I believe that Jonah, at virtually every point in this brief book, typifies Israel’s hardness of heart and unrepentant spirit. The book is not written to leave us with a warm, fuzzy, good feeling, but rather to leave us very discomforted, for just as the Book of Jonah closes with no solution to Jonah’s sin, so the Old Testament closes with no solution for Israel’s sin. Only the coming of Christ gives us the sense of relief, repentance, and restoration which God wants us to experience.

About the Prophet Jonah

Those who consider the Book of Jonah an allegory or a parable should note that 2 Kings 14:25 identifies Jonah as a real person, a Jewish prophet from Gath Hepher in Zebulun who ministered in the Northern Kingdom of Israel during the reign of Jeroboam II (793-753 b.c.). They should also note that our Lord considered Jonah a historic person and pointed to him as a type of His own death, burial, and resurrection (Matt. 12:41; Luke 11:32).

The reign of Jeroboam II was a time of great prosperity in Israel; the nation regained lost territory and expanded both its boundaries and influence. But it was a time of moral and spiritual decay as the nation rapidly moved away from God and into idolatry. Jonah’s contemporaries Hosea and Amos both courageously denounced the wickedness of the rulers, priests, and people. It’s worth noting that Hosea and Amos also showed God’s concern for other nations, which is one of the major themes of Jonah.

While Jonah had a ministry to Nineveh, a leading city in Assyria, he also had a ministry to Israel through this little book. He discovered God’s compassion for those outside Israel, even those who were their enemies. God had called His people to be a blessing to the Gentiles (Gen. 12:1-3), but, like Jonah, the Jews refused to obey. And, like Jonah, they had to be disciplined; for Assyria would conquer Israel and Babylon would take Judah into captivity. Jonah’s book magnifies the sovereignty of God as well as the love and mercy of God. Jehovah is the “God of the second chance,” even for rebellious prophets!

Very little is said of the prophet Jonah outside of the Book of Jonah itself. In 2 Kings 14:25, Jonah is said to have prophesied that the southern kingdom of Israel would expand its borders during the reign of Jeroboam, a wicked king. It does seem safe to conclude that this “Jonah” is the same person as the “Jonah” who is the subject of the Book of Jonah, especially since both are identified as “the son of Amittai”[2] (cp. 2 Kings 14:25; Jonah 1:1). The prophecy of Jonah to Jeroboam conveys some important background material to enhance our understanding of this book.

We are told, In the fifteenth year of Amaziah the son of Joash king of Judah, Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel became king in Samaria, and reigned fortyone years. And he did evil in the sight of the LORD; he did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel sin. –He restored the border of Israel from the entrance of Hamath as far as the Sea of the Arabah, according to the word of the LORD, the God of Israel, which He spoke through His servant Jonah the son of Amittai, the prophet, who was of Gathhepher-. For the LORD saw the affliction of Israel, which was very bitter; for there was neither bond nor free, nor was there any helper for Israel. And the LORD did not say that He would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, but He saved them by the hand of Jeroboam the son of Joash (2 Kings 14:2327, emphasis mine).-

Jonah was therefore a prophet of the northern kingdom of Israel, whose predecessors were Elijah and Elisha. Hosea and Amos would likely have been Jonah’s contemporaries. Assyria, whose capital city was Nineveh, had already begun to exercise her dominance in the near East, but for a time her control would wane, allowing Israel, under Jeroboam’s leadership, to expand her borders. In the text cited above, it is stated clearly that Israel’s prosperity during this period was solely due to the grace of God and to His compassion on His people, who were greatly afflicted. It was not godliness on the part of the nation, or its leadership, which could be viewed as the basis for God’s blessings. Thus, just as Jonah’s ministry in Nineveh would result in an outpouring of God’s grace, so his ministry in Israel would result in God’s grace – with one exception, that is; Israel did not repent of her evil deeds, and God blessed the nation anyway, while the Ninevites sincerely repented of their sins. In this sense God’s grace was even greater to the Israelites than it was to the Ninevites, for God had promised to forgive those who repent (cf. Jer. 18:78). –

Israel’s prosperity would not last long. Amos, Jonah’s contemporary, warned of God’s coming day of judgment on Israel. He condemned Israel for her oppression of the poor and her perversion of justice (5:1113). All the while, the people of Israel continued to practice the ceremonial rituals of worship, but God said,-

“I hate, I reject your festivals, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an everflowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24). –

Because of her sin, God promised judgment:

“Therefore, I will make you go into exile beyond Damascus,” says the LORD, whose name is the God of hosts (Amos 5:27).

While the warning of Amos is general in nature, speaking only of Israel’s future exile, Hosea specifically indicated that Israel’s captor would be Assyria:

They will not return to the land of Egypt; But Assyria—he will be their king, Because they refused to return to Me. And the sword will whirl against their cities, And will demolish their gate bars And consume them because of their counsels (Hosea 11:57).-

Some scholars find it more difficult to “swallow” the miraculous accounts of this little book than the fish found it to swallow the prophet. I am not going to spend much time or effort to prove the miracles, since these are ultimately a matter of faith. The God who is the Creator of the universe would have no difficulty in accomplishing the miracles described in this book. From our study of this book, it will become evident that the most difficult miracle is that of softening the hardened heart of the prophet. All that is necessary to observe is that our Lord understood the account of the Book of Jonah to be literal (Matt. 12:3941), and so we need only follow in His steps and do likewise.-

[1]1 “Generally the prophetic stories in the OT seek to glorify the man of God in the sense that he is revealed as a noble mediator of God’s own power and glory. But Jonah is no hero: he is deliberately portrayed in a very poor light. The concern of a number of OT prophetic narratives is to trace the process whereby a divine oracle was fulfilled. This book, on the contrary, breaks the pattern surprisingly by showing how and why a divine oracle, concerning the destruction of Nineveh, was not fulfilled.” Leslie C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1976), p. 175.

[2] The name “Jonah” means “dove,” although we would probably be inclined to think of this prophet as a “hawk.” “Amittai” means “[My] true one.”

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Posted by on June 9, 2022 in Encounters with God


A closer view of the cross: The saint must walk alone

Some paths we must walk alone. Find more inspirational quotes to help you  navigate your grief at:… | Inspirational  quotes, Grief, Life

Galatians 2:20 (ESV) I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

There seems to be a great throng of professing Christians in our churches today whose total and amazing testimony sounds about like this: “I am thankful for God’s plan in sending Christ to the cross to save me from hell.”

I am convinced that it is a cheap, low-grade and misleading kind of Christianity that impels people to rise and state: “Because of sin I was deeply in debt—and God sent His Son, who came and paid all my debts.”

Of course believing Christian men and women are saved from the judgment of hell, and it is a reality that Christ our Redeemer has paid the whole slate of debt and sin that was against us.

But what does God say about His purpose in allowing Jesus to go to the cross and to the grave? What does God say about the meaning of death and resurrection for the Christian believer?

Surely we know the Bible well enough to be able to answer that: God’s highest purpose in the redemption of sinful humanity was based in His hope that we would allow Him to reproduce the likeness of Jesus Christ in our once-sinful lives!

This is the reason why we should be concerned with this text—this testimony of the Apostle Paul in which he shares his own personal theology with the Galatian Christians who had become known for their backsliding.

It is a beautiful miniature, shining forth as an unusual and sparkling gem, an entire commentary on the deeper Christian life and experience. We are not trying to take it out of its context by dealing with it alone. We are simply acknowledging the fact that the context is too broad to be dealt with in any one message.

This is a verse with such depth of meaning and spiritual potential for the Christian believer that we are obligated to seek its full meaning—so it can become practical and workable and livable in all of our lives in this present world.

It is plain in this text that Paul was forthright and frank in the matter of his own personal involvement in seeking and finding God’s highest desires and provision for Christian experience and victory. He was not bashful about the implications of his own personality becoming involved with the claims of Jesus Christ.

Not only does he plainly testify, “I have been crucified,” but within the immediate vicinity of these verses, he used the words I, myself and me a total of fourteen times….

Only Christianity recognizes why the person who is without God and without any spiritual perception gets in such deep trouble with his own ego.

Most of the world’s great souls have been lonely. Loneliness seems to be one price the saint must pay for his saintliness.

In the morning of the world (or should we say, in that strange darkness that came soon after the dawn of man’s creation) that pious soul, Enoch, walked with God and was not, for God took him; and while it is not stated in so many words, a fair inference is that Enoch walked a path quite apart from his contemporaries.

Another lonely man was Noah who, of all the antediluvians, found grace in the sight of God; and every shred of evidence points to the aloneness of his life even while surrounded by people.

Again, Abraham had Sarah and Lot, as well as many servants and herdsmen, but who can read his story and the apostolic comment upon it without sensing instantly that he was a man “whose soul was alike a star and dwelt apart”?

As far as we know, not one word did God ever speak to him in the company of men. Facedown he communed with his God, and the innate dignity of the man forbade that he assume this posture in the presence of others.

How sweet and solemn was the scene that night of the sacrifice when he saw the lamps of fire moving between the pieces of offering. There alone with a horror of great darkness upon him he heard the voice of God and knew that he was a man marked for divine favor.

Moses also was a man apart. While yet attached to the court of Pharaoh he took long walks alone, and during one of these walks while far removed from the crowds he saw an Egyptian and a Hebrew fighting and came to the rescue of his countryman.

After the resultant break with Egypt he dwelt in almost complete seclusion in the desert. There while he watched his sheep alone the wonder of the burning bush appeared to him, and later on the peak of Sinai he crouched alone to gaze in fascinated awe at the Presence, partly hidden, partly disclosed, within the cloud and fire.

The prophets of pre-Christian times differed widely from each other, but one mark they bore in common was their enforced loneliness.

They loved their people and gloried in the religion of the fathers, but their loyalty to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their zeal for the welfare of the nation of Israel drove them away from the crowd and into long periods of heaviness. “I am become a stranger unto my brethren, and an alien unto my mother’s children” (Psalm 69:8), cried one and unwittingly spoke for all the rest.

Most revealing of all is the sight of that One of whom Moses and all the prophets did write, treading His lonely way to the cross, His deep loneliness unrelieved by the presence of the multitudes.

’Tis midnight, and on Olive’s brow The star is dimmed that lately shone.

‘Tis midnight; in the garden now The suffering Savior prays alone.

‘Tis midnight, and from all removed, The Savior wrestles lone with fears;

E’en that disciple whom He loved Heeds not his Master’s grief and tears.  —William B. Tappan

He died alone in the darkness, hidden from the sight of mortal man, and no one saw Him when He arose triumphant and walked out of the tomb, though many saw Him afterward and bore witness to what they saw.

There are some things too sacred for any eye but God’s to look upon. The curiosity, the clamor, the well-meant but blundering effort to help can only hinder the waiting soul and make unlikely, if not impossible, the communication of the secret message of God to the worshiping heart.

Sometimes we react by a kind of religious reflex and repeat dutifully the proper words and phrases even though they fail to express our real feelings and lack the authenticity of personal experience.

Right now is such a time. A certain conventional loyalty may lead some who hear this unfamiliar truth expressed for the first time to say brightly, “Oh, I am never lonely. God said, ‘I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee’ (Joshua 1:5), and Christ said, ‘Lo, I am with you always’ (Matthew 28:20).

How can I be lonely when Jesus is with me?” I do not want to reflect on the sincerity of any Christian soul, but this stock testimony is too neat to be real.

It is obviously what the speaker thinks should be true rather than what he has proved to be true by the test of experience. This cheerful denial of loneliness proves only that the speaker has never walked with God without the support and encouragement afforded him by society.

The sense of companionship which he mistakenly attributes to the presence of Christ may and probably does arise from the presence of friendly people.

Always remember: You cannot carry a cross in company. Though a man were surrounded by a vast crowd, his cross is his alone and his carrying of it marks him as a man apart. Society has turned against him; otherwise he would have no cross. No one is a friend to the man with a cross. “And they all forsook him, and fled” (Mark 14:50).

The pain of loneliness arises from the constitution of our nature. God made us for each other. The desire for human companionship is completely natural and right.

The loneliness of the Christian results from his walk with God in an ungodly world, a walk that must often take him away from the fellowship of good Christians as well as from that of the unregenerate world.

His God-given instincts cry out for companionship with others of his kind, others who can understand his longings, his aspirations, his absorption in the love of Christ; and because within his circle of friends there are so few who share his inner experiences he is forced to walk alone.

The unsatisfied longings of the prophets for human understanding caused them to cry out in their complaint, and even our Lord Himself suffered in the same way.

The man who has passed on into the divine presence in actual inner experience will not find many who understand him. A certain amount of social fellowship will of course be his as he mingles with religious persons in the regular activities of the church, but true spiritual fellowship will be hard to find.

But he should not expect things to be otherwise. After all, he is a stranger and a pilgrim, and the journey he takes is not on his feet but in his heart. He walks with God in the garden of his own soul—and who but God can walk there with him?

He is of another spirit from the multitudes that tread the courts of the Lord’s house. He has seen that of which they have only heard, and he walks among them somewhat as Zacharias walked after his return from the altar when the people whispered, “He has seen a vision” (see Luke 1:22).

The truly spiritual man is indeed something of an oddity.

  • He lives not for himself but to promote the interests of Another.
  • He seeks to persuade people to give all to his Lord and asks no portion or share for himself.
  • He delights not to be honored but to see his Savior glorified in the eyes of men. His joy is to see his Lord promoted and himself neglected.
  • He finds few who care to talk about that which is the supreme object of his interest, so he is often silent and preoccupied in the midst of noisy religious shoptalk. For this he earns the reputation of being dull and over serious, so he is avoided and the gulf between him and society widens.
  • He searches for friends upon whose garments he can detect the smell of myrrh and aloes and cassia out of the ivory palaces (see Psalm 45:8), and finding few or none he, like Mary of old, keeps these things in his heart.

It is this very loneliness that throws him back upon God. “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up” (Psalm 27:10).

His inability to find human companionship drives him to seek in God what he can find nowhere else. He learns in inner solitude what he could not have learned in the crowd—that Christ is All in all, that He is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption, that in Him we have and possess life’s summum bonum.

Two things remain to be said. 1. The lonely man of whom we speak is not a haughty man, nor is he the holier-than-thou, austere saint so bitterly satirized in popular literature. He is likely to feel that he is the least of all men and is sure to blame himself for his very loneliness.

He wants to share his feelings with others and to open his heart to some like-minded soul who will understand him, but the spiritual climate around him does not encourage it, so he remains silent and tells his griefs to God alone.

  1. The second thing is that the lonely saint is not the withdrawn man who hardens himself against human suffering and spends his days contemplating the heavens. Just the opposite is true.

His loneliness makes him sympathetic to the approach of the brokenhearted and the fallen and the sin-bruised. Because he is detached from the world he is all the more able to help it.

The weakness of so many modern Christians is that they feel too much at home in the world. In their effort to achieve restful “adjustment” to unregenerate society they have lost their pilgrim character and become an essential part of the very moral order against which they are sent to protest.

The world recognizes them and accepts them for what they are. And this is the saddest thing that can be said about them. They are not lonely, but neither are they saints.

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Posted by on June 6, 2022 in cross


A closer view of the cross: Almost

Pontius Pilate - Wikipedia

23:11-12 Now Herod and his soldiers began mocking and ridiculing Jesus. Then they put a royal robe on him and sent him back to Pilate. Herod and Pilate, who had been enemies before, became friends that day.NLT With this prisoner refusing to answer, and looking very little like a great miracle worker, Herod and his soldiers began mocking and ridiculing Jesus. Angry at Jesus’ refusal to even answer questions for him, Herod resorted to making a mockery of this man who was supposedly such a great prophet, teacher, and miracle worker.

To make fun of Jesus’ claim to be a king (probably Pilate had sent along this information when he sent Jesus to Herod), Herod put a royal robe on him, probably a purple color with fine workmanship. Herod did not even take the charge seriously. So he neither released the prisoner nor made a judgment about his guilt. He simply sent him back to Pilate.

Herod and Pilate had a rather tenuous relationship. Herod was the part-Jewish ruler of Galilee and Perea. Pilate was the Roman governor of Judea and Samaria. Those four provinces, together with several others, had been united under Herod the Great. But when Herod the Great died in 4 b.c., the kingdom was divided among his sons, each of whom was called “tetrarch” (meaning “ruler of a fourth part of a region”). Archelaus, the son who had received Judea and Samaria, was removed from office within ten years, and his provinces were then ruled by a succession of Roman governors, of whom Pilate was the fifth.

Herod Antipas had two advantages over Pilate: he had come from a part-Jewish monarchy, and he had held his position much longer. But Pilate had two advantages over Herod: he was a Roman citizen and an envoy of the emperor, and his position was created to replace that of Herod’s ineffective half brother. It is not surprising that the two men were uneasy around each other. Jesus’ trial, however, brought them together. Because Pilate had recognized Herod’s authority over Galilee, Herod had stopped feeling threatened by the Roman politician. And because neither man knew what to do in this predicament, their common problem united them.


According to the Roman custom of releasing a criminal during the Passover season, Pilate presented Jesus to the people. Pilate did not want to bear the responsibility of putting an innocent man to death. But the crowd insisted on Barabbas’s freedom, the release of a known murderer. That Jesus literally died in Barabbas’s place vividly illustrates the ultimate significance of Jesus’ death. He took the place of not only Barabbas but also all who stand condemned before God’s perfect standard and trust in Christ for salvation.

23:13-14 Pilate then called together the chief priests, the leaders, and the people, and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was perverting the people; and here I have examined him in your presence and have not found this man guilty of any of your charges against him.”NRSV Pilate thought he had gotten rid of his problem, only to have Jesus sent back. The decision still rested on his shoulders. So he attempted to let this innocent man go by telling Jesus’ accusers that he had examined him and not found this man guilty of any of their charges—including subversion, refusal to pay taxes, causing riots, or perverting the people. He didn’t even find Jesus guilty of being the king he claimed to be. Pilate may have incorrectly thought that Jesus was just a poor, deluded man; he did know, however, that Jesus was innocent.


When the stakes are high, it is difficult to stand up for what is right, and it is easy to see opponents as problems to be solved rather than as people to be respected. Had Pilate been a man of real courage, he would have released Jesus regardless of the consequences. But the crowd roared, and Pilate buckled.

People are like Pilate when they know what is right but decide not to do it. When you have a difficult decision to make, don’t discount the effects of peer pressure. Realize beforehand that the right decision could have unpleasant consequences: social rejection, career derailment, public ridicule. Then think of Pilate and resolve to stand up for what is right no matter what other people pressure you to do.

23:15 “Herod came to the same conclusion and sent him back to us. Nothing this man has done calls for the death penalty.”NLT Pilate could back up his decision with Herod’s conclusion about Jesus. Herod had mocked Jesus but apparently had sent back word to Pilate that he could find nothing worthy of the death penalty. Jesus was tried a total of six times, by both Jewish and Roman authorities, but he was never convicted of a crime. Even when condemned to execution, he had been convicted of no felony. Today, no one can find fault in Jesus. Just like Pilate, Herod, and the religious leaders, however, many still refuse to acknowledge him as Lord.

23:16 “Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.”NIV The word “punish” here may not indicate the severe flogging that Jesus received after being sentenced, prior to his crucifixion (as noted in Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15), although John 19:1 reports Jesus being flogged and then brought before the crowd. Pilate may have hoped that the flogging would appease the crowd, and they would pity the man and let him go. Pilate was planning to release Jesus, but first he would punish him—to pacify the Jews and teach the prisoner a lesson to stay out of trouble in the future.

Riding The Fence

Pilate knew that Jesus had done nothing deserving punishment, and certainly not the death penalty. Even so, he didn’t have the courage or the decency to release Jesus; he tried to find a middle position that would allow Jesus to live and still appease the chief priests and the Jewish rulers. He failed, and Pilate is known forever as the man who ordered the crucifixion of the Son of God.

Where do you stand? Have you made up your own mind about Jesus, whether to follow him as Lord and Messiah, or to dismiss him as a misguided martyr? There is no middle ground, no way to ride the fence when it comes to Jesus. You must either embrace him as Lord or reject him as a fraud.

23:17 (For it was necessary for him to release one to them at the feast).NKJV This verse does not exist in most modern English versions because it does not appear in any of the earliest Greek manuscripts. It may have been added later, perhaps picked up from Mark 15:6 to make a smoother transition between what is recorded in verses 16 and 18. This information helps the reader understand why the Jews called for the release of a prisoner in 23:18. But the text without 23:17 reads just as well; Pilate’s statement about releasing Jesus (23:16) is followed (23:18) by an immediate plea from the crowd to release Barabbas instead.

Each year at Passover, Pilate had made it a custom to release any prisoner the people requested. He may have instituted this custom to be on good terms with them as well as to help cover his many wrongful acts toward them. In any case, it became expected. So, according to the people, it was necessary for him to release a prisoner to them at the feast.

23:18-19 With one voice they cried out, “Away with this man! Release Barabbas to us!” (Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection in the city, and for murder.)NIV The suggestion that Pilate was going to release Jesus (23:16) sent the leaders into a frenzy. Pilate had wanted to release Jesus as the Passover gift (Mark 15:8-9). This had been a public announcement, so many people in the crowd cried out with one voice that Jesus must be put to death. The prisoner they wanted set free was a man named Barabbas. Oddly enough, Barabbas had been thrown into prison for an insurrection. Barabbas may have been somewhat of a hero among the Jews for his acts of rebellion against Rome, but he was on death row in a Roman prison. He was a true rebel and revolutionary and had even committed murder. The religious leaders had tried to pin this accusation on Jesus in order to have him put to death, but they chose a man who had done such acts and wanted him set free. Clearly their actions followed no logic. They merely wanted Jesus put to death and would go to any lengths to make sure it happened.

Who was Barabbas? Jewish men had names that identified them with their fathers. Simon Peter, for example, was called Simon, son of Jonah (Matthew 16:17). Barabbas is never identified by his given name, and this name, “Bar-abbas,” simply means “son of ‘Abba'” (or “son of daddy”). He could have been anybody’s son—and that makes for interesting commentary in that he represents all sinners. Barabbas, son of an unnamed father, committed a crime. Because Jesus died in his place, this man was set free. All people too, are sinners and criminals who have broken God’s holy law. Like Barabbas, they deserve to die. But Jesus has died in their place, for their sins, and, by faith, they have been set free.


23:20-21 Wanting to release Jesus, Pilate appealed to them again. But they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”NIV Pilate really wanted to release Jesus. Matthew recorded that even Pilate’s wife had experienced a dream about Jesus and had urged Pilate to let Jesus go (Matthew 27:19). Pilate must have been in a tight spot, because for some reason he put himself in the position of bargaining with the crowd. He had the authority to let Jesus go and then get on with his day; instead, he appealed to them again but to no avail. They wanted Jesus to be crucified.

This was, in itself, an amazing request. Crucifixion was the Roman penalty for rebellion and abhorrent to the Jews. They thought that Jesus’ crucifixion would demonstrate that his life and message had been under God’s curse, for Deuteronomy 21:23 says, “Anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse” (niv). This is just what the Jewish religious leaders wanted. If Jesus were to be executed, it would be by crucifixion. He would die the death of a rebel and slave, not the death of the king he claimed to be. The crucifixion, from the Jewish perspective, was meant to brand Jesus as cursed by God; the crucifixion, from the Christian perspective, pictures Jesus as taking God’s curse against sin upon himself and allowing his people to be set free from sin.

Taking a Stand

What are the non-negotiables in your life? What are those core principles and bedrock beliefs that you will not compromise or sell out no matter what? Consider this question before you are in a crisis whereby your principles and beliefs are put to the test. Pilate seems to have had no such convictions. He knew Jesus was innocent and undeserving of punishment, yet he yielded to pressure from his political enemies to sacrifice him. Like Pilate, most people are put in positions where they have to decide where they will stand. Unlike Pilate, Christians must decide to stand firm on the truth revealed to them by God. Where do you stand?

23:22 For the third time he spoke to them: “Why? What crime has this man committed? I have found in him no grounds for the death penalty. Therefore I will have him punished and then release him.”NIV Pilate tried for the third time. He could not fathom why the crowd so badly wanted this man’s death. Jesus had not committed any crime; there were no grounds for the death penalty. Pilate repeated what he had said in 23:16. He would have Jesus punished and then release him.

There are two reasons why Luke stressed these three attempts Pilate had made to release Jesus. First, Luke wanted to show through his Gospel the innocence of Jesus before Roman law. Luke was giving evidence to prove the acceptability of Christianity to his Gentile readers. Second, he was establishing the Jewish guilt for Jesus’ death. In Acts, this is the basis of the evangelistic sermons to the Jews—you killed him; he died for you and rose again; now repent and be converted (Acts 2:36-38; 3:13-16; 13:26-41).

23:23-24 But the crowd shouted louder and louder for Jesus’ death, and their voices prevailed. So Pilate sentenced Jesus to die as they demanded.NLT Pilate wanted to release Jesus, but the crowd shouted louder and louder for Jesus’ death . . . so Pilate sentenced Jesus to die. No doubt Pilate did not want to risk losing his position, which may already have been shaky, by allowing a riot to occur in his province. As a career politician, he knew the importance of compromise, and he saw Jesus more as a political threat than as a human being with rights and dignity.

23:25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.NIV Pilate did not want to give Jesus the death sentence. He thought the Jewish leaders were simply jealous men who wanted to get rid of a rival. When they threatened to report Pilate to Caesar (John 19:12), however, Pilate became frightened. Historical records indicate that Pilate had already been warned by Roman authorities about tensions in this region. The last thing he needed was a riot in Jerusalem at Passover time when the city was crowded with Jews from all over the Empire. So Pilate released Barabbas, the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, and then surrendered Jesus to their will. One must wonder if Pilate ever questioned himself later—why he had allowed a mob to convince him to set a murderer free and execute an innocent man. Clearly Pilate was a man of little conviction and even less courage. But don’t forget the responsibility of these Jewish leaders who demanded that Jesus die—Matthew recorded that they accepted the responsibility, stating that Jesus’ blood could remain on them and on their children (Matthew 27:25).

Matthew’s Gospel explains that Pilate took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd to symbolize his innocence in condemning Jesus (Matthew 27:24), but this act was no more than self-deception. Jesus may have been surrendered to the will of the mob, but this was still a purely Roman execution. Pilate had to command it in order for it to happen. After releasing Barabbas, Pilate did allow Jesus to be flogged (Matthew 27:26; Mark 15:15) as part of the Roman legal code that demanded flogging before a capital sentence was carried out. The Romans did it to weaken the prisoner so that he would die more quickly on the cross. Jesus had predicted that he would be flogged (18:32).

Almost. It’s a sad word in any man’s dictionary.

“Almost.” It runs herd with “nearly,” “next time,” “if only,” and “just about.”

It’s a word that smacks of missed opportunities, aborted efforts, and fumbled chances. It’s honorable mention, right field, on the bench, runner-up, and burnt cookies.

Almost. The one that got away. The sale that nearly closed. The gamble that almost paid off. Almost.

How many people do you know whose claim to fame is an almost?

“Did I ever tell you about the time I almost was selected as the Employee of the Year?”

“They say he almost made the big leagues.”

“I caught a catfish that was taller than me! Well … almost.”

As long as there have been people, there have been almosts. People who almost won the battle, who almost climbed the mountain, who almost found the treasure.

One of the most famous “almost’s” is found in the Bible. Pilate. Yet, what he missed was far more significant than a catfish or an award.

He almost performed what would have been history’s greatest act of mercy. He almost pardoned the Prince of Peace. He almost released the Son of God. He almost opted to acquit the Christ. Almost.

He had the power. He had the choice. He wore the signet ring. The option to free God’s Son was …. . and he did ….. almost. (Of course, in this case, God’s plan would have been twarted…but Pilate was still judged by whether he did the right thing or not).

Almost. How many times do these six ugly letters find their way into despairing epitaphs?

“He almost got it together.” “She almost chose not to leave him.” “They almost tried one more time.” “We almost worked it out. ‘He almost became a Christian.”

What is it that makes almost such a potent word? Why is there such a wide gap between “he almost” and “he did”?

In the case of Pilate, we don’t have to look far to find an answer. It is Dr. Luke’s acute commentary in chapter 23 that provides the reason. Luke 23:22 (ESV) A third time he said to them, “Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.”

You’re right, Luke. Their voices prevailed. And, as a result, Pilate’s pride prevailed. Pilate’s fear prevailed. Pilate’s power-hunger prevailed.

“Their” voices were not the only voices, you know. There were at least three others Pilate could have heard.

He could have heard the voice of Jesus. Pilate stood eye to eye with him. Five times he postponed the decision hoping to gratify the mob with policies or lashings. Yet Jesus was always sent back to him.

Three times he stood eye to eye with this compelling Nazarene who had come to reveal the truth. “what is truth?” Pilate asked rhetorically (or was it honestly?). Jesus’ silence was much louder than the crowd’s demands. But Pilate didn’t listen.

He could have heard the voice of his wife. She pleaded with him to have nothing to do with that righ­teous man for I have suffered much over him today in a dream.”

One has to pause and wonder about the origin of such a dream that would cause a lady of purple to call a small-town Galilean righteous. But Pilate didn’t.

Or he could have heard his own voice. Surely he could see through the facade. “Ananias, Caiaphas, cut the phoney allegiance; I know where your interests are.”

Surely his conscience was speaking to him. “There is nothing wrong with this man. A bit mysterious maybe, but that’s no reason to string him up.”

He could have heard other voices. But he didn’t. He almost did. But he didn’t. Satan’s voices prevailed.

His voice often does prevail. Have you heard his wooings?

“One time won’t hurt.”

“She’ll never know.”

“Other people do much worse things.”

“At least you’re not being hypocritical.”

His rhetoric of rationalization never ends. The father of lies croons and woos like a traveling peddler, promising the moon and delivering disaster.

“Step right up. Taste my brew of pleasure and sing my song of sensuality. After all, who knows about tomorrow?”

God, meanwhile, never enters a shouting match with Satan. Truth need not scream. He stands perma­nently, quietly pleading, ever present. No tricks, no side shows, no temptations, just open proof.

People’s reactions vary. Some flow immediately to the peddler of poison. Others turn quickly to the Prince of Peace. Most of us, however, are caught somewhere in between, lingering on the edge of Satan’s crowd yet hover­ing within earshot of the message of God.

Pilate learned the hard way that this stance of “almost” is suicidal. The other voices will win. Their lure is too strong. Their call too compelling.

And Pilate also learned that there is no darker hell than the one of remorse. Washing your hands a thousand times won’t free you from the guilt of an opportunity ignored. It’s one thing to forgive yourself for something you did. It is something else to try to forgive yourself for something that you might have done, but didn’t.

Jesus knew that all along.

For our own good, he demanded and demands absolute obedience. He never has had room for “almost” in his vocabulary. You are either with him or against him.

With Jesus “nearly” has to become “certainly.” “Sometimes” has to become ‘(always.” “1f only” has to become “regardless.” And “next time” has to become   time.”

No, Jesus never had room for “almost” and he still doesn’t. “Almost” may count in horseshoes and hand grenades, but with the Master, it is just as good as a “never.”



Posted by on June 2, 2022 in cross


A Closer Look at the Cross: Where Is God? At Calvary!

God's Message at Calvary - Chicago Bible Students

“Where is God?” inquired the mind: “To His presence I am blind. . . .I have scanned each star and sun, Traced the certain course they run; I have weighed them in my scale, And can tell when each will fail; From the caverns of the night I have brought new worlds to light; I have measured earth and sky Read each zone with steady eye; But no sight of God appears In the glory of the spheres.” But the heart spoke wistfully, “Have you looked at Calvary?”  – Thomas C. Clark

If we would know the power of truth we must emphasize it. Creedal truth is coal lying inert in the depths of the earth waiting release. Dig it out, shovel it into the combustion chamber of some huge engine, and the mighty energy that lay asleep for centuries will create light and heat and cause the machinery of a great factory to surge into productive action.

The theory of coal never turned a wheel nor warmed a hearth. Power must be released to be made effective.

In the redemptive work of Christ three major epochs may be noted: His birth, His death and His subsequent elevation to the right hand of God.

These are the three main pillars that uphold the temple of Christianity; upon them rest all the hopes of mankind, world without end. All else that He did takes its meaning from these three Godlike deeds.

It is imperative that we believe all these truths, but the big question is where to lay the emphasis. Which truth should, at a given time, receive the sharpest accent? We are exhorted to look unto Jesus, but where shall we look? Unto Jesus in the manger? on the cross? at the throne? These questions are far from academic. It is of great practical importance to us that we get the right answer.

Of course we must include in our total creed the manger, the cross and the throne. All that is symbolized by these three objects must be present to the gaze of faith; all is necessary to a proper understanding of the Christian evangel.

No single tenet of our creed must be abandoned or even relaxed, for each is joined to the other by a living bond. But while all truth is to be at all times to be held inviolate, not every truth is to be at all times emphasized equally with every other. Our Lord indicated as much when He spoke of the faithful and wise steward who gave to his master’s household “their portion of meat in due season” (Luke 12:42).

Mary brought forth her firstborn Son and wrapped Him in swaddling clothes and laid Him in a manger. Wise men came to worship, shepherds wondered and angels chanted of peace and good will towards men.

All taken together this scene is so chastely beautiful, so winsome, so tender, that the like of it is not found anywhere in the literature of the world. It is not hard to see why Christians have tended to place such emphasis upon the manger, the meek-eyed virgin and the Christ child. In certain Christian circles the major emphasis is made to fall upon the child in the manger. Why this is so is understandable, but the emphasis is nevertheless misplaced.

Christ was born that He might become a man and became a man that He might give His life as ransom for many. Neither the birth nor the dying were ends in themselves. As He was born to die, so did He die that He might atone, and rise that He might justify freely all who take refuge in Him. His birth and His death are history. His appearance at the mercy seat is not history past, but a present, continuing fact, to the instructed Christian the most glorious fact his trusting heart can entertain.

Let us remember that weakness lies at the manger, death at the cross and power at the throne. Our Christ is not in a manger. Indeed, New Testament theology nowhere presents the Christ child as an object of saving faith. The gospel that stops at the manger is another gospel and no good news at all. The Church that still gathers around the manger can only be weak and misty-eyed, mistaking sentimentality for the power of the Holy Spirit.

As there is now no babe in the manger at Bethlehem so there is no man on the cross at Jerusalem. To worship the babe in the manger or the man on the cross is to reverse the redemptive processes of God and turn the clock back on His eternal purposes. Let the Church place its major emphasis upon the cross and there can be only pessimism, gloom and fruitless remorse. Let a sick man die hugging a crucifix and what have we there? Two dead men in a bed, neither of which can help the other.

The glory of the Christian faith is that the Christ who died for our sins rose again for our justification. We should joyfully remember His birth and gratefully muse on His dying, but the crown of all our hopes is with Him at the Father’s right hand.

Paul gloried in the cross and refused to preach anything except Christ and Him crucified, but to him the cross stood for the whole redemptive work of Christ. In his epistles Paul writes of the Incarnation and the Crucifixion, yet he stops not at the manger or the cross but constantly sweeps our thoughts on to the Resurrection and upward to the ascension and the throne.

“All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matthew 28:18), said our risen Lord before He went up on high, and the first Christians believed Him and went forth to share His triumph. “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all” (Acts 4:33).

Should the Church shift her emphasis from the weakness of the manger and the death of the cross to the life and power of the enthroned Christ, perhaps she might recapture her lost glory. It is worth a try.

The Cross Jesus Had in Mind

When Jesus said, “If you are going to follow me, you have to take up a cross,” it was the same as saying, “Come and bring your electric chair with you. Take up the gas chamber and follow me.”

He did not have a beautiful gold cross in mind—the cross on a church steeple or on the front of your Bible. Jesus had in mind a place of execution.

The New Cross

“From this new cross has sprung a new philosophy of the Christian life; and from that new philosophy has come a new evangelical technique—a new type of meeting and new type of preaching. This new evangelism employs the same language as of the old, but its content is not the same, and the emphasis not as before.

“The new cross encourages a new and entirely different evangelistic approach. The evangelist does not demand abnegation of the old life before a new life can be received. He preaches not contrasts but similarities. He seeks to key into the public view the same thing the world does, only a higher level. Whatever the sin-mad world happens to be clamoring after at the moment is cleverly shown to be the very thing the gospel offers, only the religious product is better.

“The new cross does not slay the sinner; it re-directs him. It gears him to a cleaner and jollier way of living, and saves his self-respect…The Christian message is slanted in the direction of the current vogue in order to make it acceptable to the public.

“The philosophy back of this kind of thing may be sincere, but its sincerity does not save it from being false. It is false because it is blind. It misses completely the whole meaning of the cross.

The old cross is a symbol of DEATH. It stands for the abrupt, violent end of a human being. The man in Roman times who took the cross and started down the road has already said goodbye to his friends. He was not coming back. He was not going out to have his life re-directed; he was going out to have it ended. The cross made no compromise; modified nothing; spared nothing. It slew all of the man completely, and for good. It did not try to keep on good terms with the victim. It struck cruel and hard, and when it had finished its work, the man was no more.

“The race of Adam is under the death sentence. There is no commutation and no escape. God cannot approve any fruits of sin, however innocent they may appear, or beautiful to the eyes of men. God salvages the individual by liquidating him, and then raising him again to newness of life.

“That evangelism which draws friendly parallels between the ways of God and the ways of men is false to the Bible and cruel to the souls of its hearers.

The faith of Christ does not parallel the world; it intersects it. In coming to Christ we do not bring our old life to a higher plane; we leave it at the cross….

“We, who preach the gospel, must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, or the world of sports, or modern entertainment.

“We are not diplomats, but prophets; and our message is not a compromise, but an ultimatum.”

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Posted by on May 30, 2022 in cross


A Closer Look at the Cross: The Joy Set Before Him Hebrews 12

reason Jesus endured the cross | Beth ArmstrongChapter 12 contains clues regarding the situation of the believers to whom this letter was written. They have been encouraged not to drift away (2:1), but in this chapter we perceive a community weary of persecution, struggling to stay strong in an increasingly hostile environment, but weakening perhaps to the point of giving up and turning away from their faith.

All that has been addressed so far comes to focus as these weary believers are encouraged to look not around them but at Jesus, their ultimate example of faithfulness and endurance in the face of hatred and humiliation. Not only is Jesus Christ superior to all that the Jews had previously known, but he also had suffered just as they were presently suffering—in fact, Jesus had suffered even more deeply. Yet Christ is now enthroned in the heavens, and the believers can trust that this will be their future as well.

Believers were also encouraged to look upon their suffering as though it were the discipline of a loving Father, not for wrong actions but for helping them to mature spiritually. God alone can take unbelievers’ hostility and turn it into an avenue of blessing and growth for his children. It would be important for believers to carry that perspective into the coming days.

12:1 Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.NKJV After hearing the roll call of faithful believers throughout the centuries, illustrating true faith (chapter 11), the readers are challenged to also persevere in their faith. These faithful people from the past now stand as so great a cloud of witnesses. Hebrews uses the athletic imagery of a Greek amphitheater that has rows and rows of spectators, a “great cloud” or a large group.

They do not “witness” as if they were merely spectators, looking down from heaven and watching believers’ lives; instead, they witness through the historical record of their faithfulness that constantly encourages those who follow them. We do not struggle alone, and we are not the first to struggle with problems, persecution, discouragement, even failure. Others have “run the race” and crossed the finish line, and their witness stirs us to run and win also.

What an inspiring heritage we have! These great believers’ lives, examples, and faithfulness in God, without seeing his promises, speak to all believers of the rewards of staying in “the race.” This metaphor of a footrace run “with endurance” describes a marathon, a test of stamina and commitment. This provided an apt description of the lives of these suffering believers.

Three aspects to this “race” are set before all believers:

Preparation. The first step of preparation to run the race requires that each racer lay aside every weight. This had two meanings for the racers of the ancient world: the clothes that hold back (races often were run naked) or the fat or superfluous weight that would keep an athlete from running efficiently. Christians must be “spiritually trim” and able to run the race unencumbered (see 1 Corinthians 9:25; 2 Timothy 2:3-4). Many “weights” may not be necessarily sinful acts, but could be things that hold us back, such as use of time, some forms of entertainment, or certain relationships.

The second step of preparation requires believers to avoid the sin which so easily ensnares. Classical Greek runners would race nude so that a garment would not impede or slow them down. Spiritually speaking, Christians should put away any sin that might entangle, impede, or trip them up. Sins such as greed, pride, arrogance, lust, gossip, dishonesty, and stealing can cause believers to drift off spiritual course.

Participation. After Christians prepare, they must participate in the race—they must run. Hebrews gives examples of what it means to “run”: having faith, visiting prisoners, entertaining strangers, believing God, trusting God, worshiping God, knowing Christ, having courage, praying, encouraging others, and confessing sin. These can be summarized as loving God and loving others.

Perseverance. The race that we run is not our own. We did not select the course; it is God who marks it out before us. We should be running for Christ, not ourselves, and we must always keep him in sight. The “race that is set before us” refers to the trials Christians will experience as outlined in 12:4-11.

Finally, Christians persevere, running with endurance the race that is set before [them]. The writer has often referred to having endurance, being diligent, and persevering (see 2:1; 4:11; 6:11; 10:34, 36; 11:27; 12:7; 13:14). The Christian life involves opposition and suffering, requiring believers to give up whatever endangers their relationship with God, to run patiently, and to struggle against sin with the power of the Holy Spirit. To live effectively, believers must keep their eyes on Jesus. We will stumble if we look away from him to stare at ourselves or at the circumstances surrounding us.

Running a race requires preparation, participation, and perseverance. Christians prepare to run the race through daily training. We pray, read the word of God, and examine our life for habits that would impede us in the race. We participate in worship, and we persevere by maintaining a Christlike and God-honoring attitude even when the trials are strong and we feel weak.

12:2 Looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.NRSV Jesus, our example, perfectly finished his race. Because he stands at the finish line, Christians should fix [their] eyes on Jesus, looking away from other distractions or options (see also 3:1). This is the same focused attention Moses had, as recorded in 11:26, “He was looking ahead to his reward” (niv). Jesus is the ultimate “hero of faith” as carried over from the list of heroes in chapter 11.

The name “Jesus” focuses on Jesus’ humanity; in the flesh, he faced suffering and thus is able to help us. Each member of the “great cloud of witnesses” can be inspiring, but Jesus provides the ultimate example. Jesus is described in two ways:

Pioneer. The Greek word is archegon; it means pioneer, pathfinder, or leader. Perhaps “champion” conveys the best meaning. Jesus is our hero, the first who obeyed God perfectly and thus began the new covenant (see also 2:10). He set the course of faith, ran the race first (6:20), and now waits for us to join him at the end, encouraging us all the way.

Perfecter of our faith. “Perfecter” is teleioten in Greek, meaning finisher, the one who brings us to our intended goal. Jesus is our perfecter, both because he was made the perfect High Priest through suffering and obedience (see 2:10, 5:8) and because he perfects us as we draw closer to him.

After explaining some of Jesus’ credentials and reasons for keeping our eyes him, Hebrews tells how Jesus must be the believers’ example in facing trials. He endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Crucifixion was a horrible and shameful way to die. Jesus endured this disgraceful and degrading death; even more, he “disregarded” the shame it represented, despising and scorning it. The human shame amounted to nothing compared to the shame that Jesus felt when he took on the sins of the world. So great were the sins that even the Father had to turn his face away from his Son.

Yet Jesus endured all this suffering on account of the joy that was set before him. He kept his eyes focused on the goal of his appointed course, the accomplishment of his priestly work, and his seat at the right hand of God. Knowing that a great reward was coming for God’s people gave Jesus great joy. He did not look at his earthly discomforts, but he kept his eyes on the spiritual, invisible realities.

When the suffering was complete and Jesus had finished the race appointed for him, he took his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Again Hebrews returns to the focus of Psalm 110 (see commentary on 1:13; 8:1). Christ “sat down” because when he offered up his life, he completed his work. He no longer needs to provide sacrifices or pave a way to God. Just as Christ, our forerunner, received great reward for finishing the race before him and now sits enthroned by God, exalted to a place of highest honor, Christians will also share his reward when they finish the race set before them (see Luke 22:28-30). So, like Christ, we should persevere in times of suffering, looking to Christ as our model and concentrating on our heavenly destination.

12:3 Think about all he endured when sinful people did such terrible things to him, so that you don’t become weary and give up.NLT Christ endured great suffering to finish his race. As a result, he can be an inspiring example for believers who face suffering and persecution. When these believers were tempted to focus on their trials, even to the point of considering renouncing their faith, Hebrews encouraged them to think about all [Jesus] endured when sinful people did such terrible things to him. Christ was ridiculed, whipped, beaten, spit upon, and crucified. Even so, he did not give in to fatigue, discouragement, or despair.

By focusing on Christ and what he did on our behalf, we won’t become weary and give up. Trials can cause us to become discouraged and even to despair. During these difficult times, we can remember how Christ endured, and that endurance can inspire us.

Throughout the history of the church, meditation on the suffering of Christ has helped countless martyrs, prisoners, and those being persecuted. Christ’s suffering surpassed any suffering we humans might face.

We can also remember the great cloud of witnesses who demonstrated faith (chapter 11), and they can inspire us.

Facing hardship and discouragement, we must not lose sight of the big picture.

We are not alone; Jesus stands with us. Many have endured far more difficult circumstances than we have experienced.

Suffering trains us for Christian maturity, developing our patience and making our final victory sweet.

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Posted by on May 26, 2022 in cross


A Closer Look at the Cross: Female Finalists

The Women at the Cross of Jesus - YouTube

A closer look at the seven women who stood by at the cross

Matthew 27:55-56 Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.

Jn 19:25-27 25Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, Dear woman, here is your son, 27and to the disciple, Here is your mother. From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

“For in Christ you are all sons of God, through faith.  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.  There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave or free, there is neither male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26-28).

Until Jesus came on the scene, women were treated as inferior beings.

* In the Mediterranean region and the near East, women were viewed as inferior beings because of the Patriarchal society.

*  In the Greek society women were held as inferior to men and destined only for childbearing.

*  In the Roman society a wife was the property of her husband.

*  In the Jewish societies, women were only sexual beings, servants of their husbands, with limited religious roles.  They were not required to make the annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem for the feasts. They didn’t go to school where the Torah was taught. They were not allowed to read or recite scriptures.

After Jesus began his ministry, his treatment and acceptance of women caused problems with the Jewish leaders, his apostles, and others who had allowed women to become stereotyped as lower class beings.  The women Jesus met were astonished at his attitude and acceptance of them [Examples: the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well (John 4:7-26); the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11)].  Jesus was the original women’s liberator of his day.

It is no wonder then that women became devoted to Jesus and his teachings.  It offered them freedom they never had before.  Several women became disciples of Jesus and supported him in his ministry – Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and many other unnamed women (Luke 8:2). These women, along with others mentioned in other scriptures – Salome, Mary of Bethany, and Mary the wife of Clopas, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, followed Jesus throughout his ministry to his crucifixion on the cross.

These women not only supported Jesus with their means, but they also stood by Jesus and accompanied him throughout his arrest and trial (Luke 23:39-43) and the crucifixion (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25).

What caused these women to be so dedicated to Jesus and his ministry? The answer, in part, is that they had benefited so greatly from Jesus (some had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities by Jesus) and his teachings (like that of Galatians 3:26-28) that they couldn’t help but want to show their gratitude and love by using their time, talents, and treasury in the support of Jesus’ ministry.

These women could do very little. They couldn’t speak before the Sanhedrin in Jesus’ defense; they couldn’t appeal to Pilate; they couldn’t stand against the crowds; they couldn’t overpower the Roman guards.

But they did what they could. They stayed at the cross when the disciples had not even come; they followed Jesus’ body to the tomb; they prepared spices for his body. Because these women used the opportunities they had, they were the first to witness the resurrection.

God blessed their devotion, initiative, and diligence. As believers, we should take advantage of the opportunities we have and do what we can for Christ.

The phrase ‘Afar off” indicates that some did stand far off, but some stood at the very foot of the cross (John 19:25). Their love ran deep and their devotion and courage clear. They triumphed over fear. They did not fear the enemies of Christ: they triumphed simply because they loved (1 John 4:18).

Some of these people followed Jesus for the wrong reasons.  Some wanted only physical nourishment and were rebuked by Jesus (John 6:22-26).  Others, when they realized what was necessary to follow Jesus, no longer went about with him (John 6:66).  At times even his own apostles denied knowing him (Matthew 26:69-75), fled from his presence (Matthew 26:56) and followed from afar (Matthew 26:58).

However, there was one group who stuck with Jesus throughout his ministry, from beginning to end.  These were the women, we’ll call them “female finalists,” who had totally committed themselves to Jesus and his ministry.  Through thick and thin, good times and bad, these women were always there, ready to assist and help Jesus in any way that they could.  These women deserve a closer look from us today.

Who were these women who stuck with Jesus through thick and thin?  What were their backgrounds, their names, their reason for such devotion to Jesus’ ministry? What is their backgrounds, their names, their reason for such devotion to Jesus’ ministry?  To answer these questions, we must go to the gospel accounts.

Seven women are mentioned in scripture by name as being followers and/or active supporters of Jesus and his ministry:

  1. Mary Magdalene:

This Mary was distinguished from other Marys by her second name. It signified the place of her birth.  Just as Jesus was sometimes called the Nazarene because of the town Nazareth, Mary was called Magdalene because of the town Magdala.  Magdala means “tower or castle” and in the time of Christ was a thriving1 populous town on the coast of Galilee, about three miles from Capernaum.

Dye works and primitive textile factories contributed to the wealth of the community.  It may be that Mary Magdalene’s source of funds from which she supported Jesus’ ministry was somehow derived from these town industries.

Mary Magdalene was one of the women that Jesus healed of evil spirits and infirmities (Luke 8:2).  She was said to have had seven demons cast out from her by Jesus (Mark 16:9, Luke 8:2).  She supported the ministry of Jesus from out of her means (Luke 8:2). She was present at Jesus’ crucifixion, standing afar off with several other women (Matthew 27:56: Mark 15:40; John 19:25).

She was also present at the tomb of Jesus when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus rolled the stone to the door of Jesus’ tomb (Matthew 27:61; Mark 16:47; John 19:38-42).  She went to the tomb of Jesus after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, and witnessed the great earthquake and the angel rolling the stone away from the tomb of Jesus (Matthew 28:1-2; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10; John 20:1).  Jesus appeared to her as she stood weeping outside the tomb (John 20:11-17).

  1. Joanna

Joanna’s husband was Chuzas, the house-steward of Herod.  As a steward, Chuzas was responsible for the management of Ilerod’s monetary expenditures, a position which would require both intelligence and ability.  This position of importance in all probability afforded both Chuzas and his wife Joanna an excellent income, from which Joanna may have supported the ministry of Jesus.

This Joanna was the wife of Chuzas, Herod’s steward (Luke 8:3). She was one of the women that Jesus healed of evil spirits and infirmities (Luke 8:2).  She supported the ministry of Jesus from out of her means (Luke 8:2).  She went to the tomb of Jesus after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, and witnessed the great earthquake and the angel rolling the stone away from the tomb of Jesus (Matthew 28:1-2; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10).

  1. Salome

Salome was possibly one of Jesus’ earliest female disciples, having ministered to him when he was in Galilee.

This Salome was the wife of Zebedee, the mother of the two apostles James and John, and the sister of Mary, the mother of Jesus (John 19:25).  She ministered to Jesus when he was in Galilee (Matthew 20:20-28; Mark 15:40-41).  She sought seats of honor for her sons from Jesus (Matthew 20:20-24; Mark 10:35-40).  She was present at Jesus’ crucifixion, standing afar off with several other women (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25).

She went to the tomb of Jesus after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, and witnessed the great earthquake and the angel rolling the stone away from the tomb of Jesus (Matthew 28:1-2; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10).

  1. Mary of Bethany

This Mary was the Mary that annointed the head of Jesus with an alabaster jar of expensive ointment (pure nard) and wiped his feet with her hair (Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; John 12:1-8).  Mary sat at the feet of Jesus when he visited in the house of her sister, Martha (Luke 10:38-42).  Mary also had a brother named Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead (John 11:5-44).  Mary, Martha and Lazarus were among those whom Jesus loved (John 11:5).

  1. Susanna

This Susanna was one of the women that Jesus healed of evil spirits and infirmities (Luke 8:2). She supported the ministry of Jesus from out of her means (Luke 8:2).

  1. Mary, “the other Mary” Scripture References:

This Mary was the wife of Clopas and the mother of the apostle James the younger and Joses (Joseph).

She was present at Jesus’ crucifixion, standing afar off with several other women (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25).  She was also present at the tomb of Jesus when Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus rolled the stone to the door of Jesus’ tomb (Matthew 27:61; Mark 16:47; John 19:38-42).  She went to the tomb of Jesus after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, and witnessed the great earthquake and the angel rolling the stone away from the tomb of Jesus (Matthew 28:1-2; Mark 16:1; Luke 24:10).

  1. Mary, the mother of Jesus Scripture References:

Mary was the earthly mother of Jesus (Matthew 1:18,25).  Mary’s husband was Joseph (Matthew 1:18), a carpenter by trade (Mark 6:3).  An angel appears to her and tells her she will conceive (Luke 1:26-38).  Mary visits Elizabeth for three months (Luke 1:39-56).  Mary travels with Joseph to Bethlehem; gives birth while there (Luke 2:1-7).  Mary travels with Joseph to Jerusalem with Jesus, who is now 12 years old (Luke 2:41-42).  She asks Jesus to help at a marriage feast when wine runs out (John 2:1-11).

She went with her sons to the temple to see Jesus but crowds prevented them (Matthew 12:46-50; Mark 3:31-35; Luke 8:19-21).  She was also the mother of four other sons – James, Joses, Judas and Simon – and at least two daughters (Matthew 13:55-56; Mark 6:3).  She was present at Jesus’ crucifixion, standing afar off with several other women (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25).  Her future care was entrusted to the apostle John by Jesus as he hung on the cross (John 19:26-27).  She was present with the 11 apostles in the upper room in Jerusalem after Jesus’ ascension (Acts 1:14).

Additional comments

(Matthew 27:55-56) Women: the courage and love of the women. Note the following phrases.

“Many women”: many were there. When the men fled, many women demonstrated courage.

“Afar off”: some did stand far off, but some stood at the very foot of the cross (John 19:25). Their love ran deep and their devotion and courage clear. They triumphed over fear. They did not fear the enemies of Christ: they triumphed simply because they loved (1 John 4:18).

27:55-56 Many women were also there, looking on from a distance; they had followed Jesus from Galilee and had provided for him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee.NRSV There had been many people at the cross who had come only to mock and taunt Jesus or, like the religious leaders, to revel in their apparent victory. Some of Jesus’ faithful followers were at the cross as well. Among the disciples, only John was there, and he recorded in his Gospel in graphic detail the horror he observed. Many women were also there, looking on from a distance, perhaps out of custom or out of respect for the victims.

Some of these women had come from Galilee with Jesus for the Passover. Mary Magdalene was from Magdala, a town near Capernaum in Galilee. She had been released from demon possession by Jesus (Luke 8:2). Another Mary is distinguished (from Mary Magdalene and Mary, Jesus’ mother) by the names of her sons who may have been well known in the early church. The mother of the sons of Zebedee was the mother of the disciples James and John. Her name was Salome (20:20-21), and she was probably the sister of Jesus’ mother. These women had been faithful to Jesus’ ministry, following him and providing for his material needs (see Luke 8:1-3). John wrote that Jesus’ mother, Mary, was present and that, from the cross, Jesus spoke to John about taking care of Mary (John 19:25-27).

These women could do very little. They couldn’t speak before the Sanhedrin in Jesus’ defense; they couldn’t appeal to Pilate; they couldn’t stand against the crowds; they couldn’t overpower the Roman guards. But they did what they could. They stayed at the cross when the disciples had not even come; they followed Jesus’ body to the tomb; they prepared spices for his body. Because these women used the opportunities they had, they were the first to witness the Resurrection. God blessed their devotion, initiative, and diligence. As believers, we should take advantage of the opportunities we have and do what we can for Christ.

Jn 19:25-27 25Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, Dear woman, here is your son, 27and to the disciple, Here is your mother. From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

There is a glaring absence of Jesus’ men at the cross. To our knowledge, John was the only one who showed up. He stands in the midst of a group of women. John mentions four of them while Mark and Matthew mention only three. Of course Mark and Matthew list the women who were there when Jesus died and John lists the women present when Jesus was first crucified. It may be that John and Mary leave right after Jesus speaks to them.

In Jesus’ third recorded statement from the cross, he commits his mother into the care of John, his beloved friend. This makes sense when you understand that Jesus’ “family” consists of faithful believers and Jesus’ half-brothers don’t fit that category until after his resurrection. Furthermore, John is likely Jesus’ cousin (see chart below). Therefore, he is the closest believing relative. John takes her home and gently cares for this dear saint who had a “sword wound” in her soul (Lk 2:35).

John 19:25 Mark 15:40 Matthew 27:56
Mary, Jesus’ mother
Mary’s sister Salome Mother of Zebedee’s sons (i.e., James and John)
Mary, wife of Clopas Mary, mother of James the younger & Joses Mary, mother of James and Joses
Mary Magdalene Mary Magdalene Mary Magdalene

Section 168 – Women Watch the Tomb, Soldiers Guard It (Mt 27:61-66; Mk 15:47; Lk 23:55-56)

[MT 27:]61Mary Magdalene and the other Mary {the mother of JosesMK} were sitting there opposite the tomb {[and] saw where he was laid.MK)

[LK 23:]55[These] women, who had come with Jesus from Galilee, followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. 56Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes. But they rested on the Sabbath in obedience to the commandment.

The women want to pay their respects to Jesus but they keep their distance from these two prominent members of the Sanhedrin. How could they know these two are sympathetic to Jesus? They also stand aloof due to the social stigma of men and women interacting. In addition, Carson states that Roman law forbade mourning executed criminals (p. 584). These two Marys want, in the worst way, to show their love for Jesus, but are simply not able to at this time. So they do the next best thing. They find out where Jesus is laid and plan to return at the first available opportunity. That will be at the crack of dawn on Sunday. For now, they must run back to town before sundown to prepare the necessary spices for anointing the dead.

Mt 27:62-66 62The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 63 Sir, they said, we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, After three days I will rise again. 64So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.

65Take a guard, Pilate answered. Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how. 66So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.

Pilate thinks that he is through with Jesus at 9 a.m. on Friday. But about 3 p.m. the Jews come and ask that he order Jesus’ legs broken. Shortly after that Joseph arrives and asks for the body of Jesus. Now, Saturday morning a third delegation arrives asking Pilate to provide a guard for the tomb.

It’s not that the chief priests believe Jesus could raise from the dead. They are merely afraid that his disciples will try to propagate a hoax by stealing Jesus’ body and claiming a resurrection in fulfillment of Jesus’ “supposed” prophecy. Now it should not surprise us that the chief priests were more perceptive than the disciples in interpreting Jesus’ words. They were pretty good at hermeneutics, just miserably poor at faith.

They ask Pilate for a Roman guard for three days. Pilate’s response is somewhat ambiguous: “You have a guard” [echete koustōdian]. Does he mean, “You got it. Take what you need” (as the NIV implies)? Or does he mean, “You have your own temple guards, use them!”? While both are possible, it seems that Pilate actually gives the Jews a Roman guard. First, he wants to avoid any potential conflicts which could flair into civil disorder. Second, after the resurrection, these guards are worried about the report getting back to Pilate (Mt 28:14). Temple guards wouldn’t be concerned about that. The Roman guards, on the other hand, might very well report first to the Sanhedrin rather than to Pilate since it was the Sanhedrin’s corpse that they “lost” (Mt 28:11). Third, Pilate puts his seal on the stone in front of the tomb. This is nothing more than a bit of clay or wax impressed with a signet ring, which holds a cord in front of the tomb. By moving the stone you would break the seal of clay/wax. It is not hard to do, but by doing so you violate the authority of the one whose seal is on the clay/wax. In other words, with Pilate’s seal on the stone, they would be trespassing against the authority of Rome — a violation of no small consequence. Thus, this little seal would dissuade would-be thieves. God, however, is not intimidated by it in the least.

Conclusion of Lesson

Love is like that.  When you love Jesus and his church, you don’t hesitate to give yourself totally to see the kingdom grow.  Your time becomes God’s time; your talents become God’s talents; your money and material possessions become God’s money and possessions.  You want to take a stand for his kingdom.  Jesus becomes the center of your life, number one in your heart.  The “female finalists” of this study knew that they had found the pearl of great price.  Their actions, their deeds, everything they said and did, proclaimed that they were followers of Jesus.  They were like the seed grown in the good soil in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13:18-23).  They stuck with Jesus through thick and thin.

As you look at your own life today, can you say that others see Jesus reflected in your life?  Does your light shine brightly for Jesus and his church or is it hid under a basket?  Does your checkbook prove that Jesus is first in your life?  If you punched a time clock for the Lord, how long would it show you that you actually put in for the work of the kingdom? Can you really say that Jesus is the lord of your heart?  Why not put him first right now and forever more.  Look what God has done for you – what are you doing for him?

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Posted by on May 23, 2022 in cross

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