Pastor’s Bible Reading Notes – April 23/18

Introduction: Having celebrated Easter at the beginning of this month, we do well to further reflect on Christ’s resurrection with the help of Jesus’ equating His rising with the “sign of Jonah.” We know already that Jonah was a sign of God’s grace to the Gentile world. As Nineveh was added to the people of God as a testimony to the profound grace of God, so Jesus builds His church among the pagans of His day and ours. No longer does Christ restrict Himself to appealing to His own unbelieving generation, who insisted on more signs and wonders (Mtatthew 12:38). Now Christ sends His good news to others who would receive it! May God give us a sense of great gratitude in this week’s notes as we study further what this “sign of Jonah” means, and how Jesus has made Himself a life-giving sign of our salvation. Oh, how we should treasure His loving attention to us when this world passes us by! While the nations mock the church of God, “by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed” (hymn # 347 in our Trinity hymnals), may we be reminded of the lengths the Father went to make the ‘Ninevehs of this world’ the very bride of Christ.

 

Monday: read Matthew 12:38-39 and Luke 11:29. More than once Jesus was falsely accused of not producing enough “signs” to prove that He was sent from God. But the request for a “sign” could not have been more deceitful. What Israel really wanted is for Jesus to bow before their lust for this-worldly satisfaction. They wanted Him to serve their desires by giving them more bread to feed their bellies (John 6:26-31). They did not really want a “sign” of Christ’s true Divine power. They wanted “wonders” that would make Jesus dance for them, even as they asserted themselves as self-righteous judges who could sit in judgment of the Son of God.

 

You see, in the Bible there are always worldlings who say that God’s true “signs” are not enough. They want “wonders” to impact their carnal curiosity and pride. There is a difference.  “Signs” in Scripture mean Divine works that declare the Divine origin of the prophet or wise man who does them and which confirm the faith of those who already believe. “Wonders” or carnal “miracles” on the other hand, like those which the magicians of Pharoah sought to perform, are meant to dazzle, so that any appeal to faith is smothered by carnal excitement.  This is why Jesus’ mighty works are never referred to as merely “wonders” or “miracles”. Always the word “signs” accompany “wonders” so as to direct our attention away from the miraculous to the Gospel Word itself. Jesus only does “signs” to confirm and establish faith in His Word!

 

Meditate and Pray: Lord God in Heaven, please ground our faith in the rational and unchanging Word of God. Do not let us fall prey to the distraction of the unbelieving world which clamors for more and more miracles and wonders, but yet never comes to faith. Give us confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture. Save us from the terrible condemnation of John 5:39-40, where the Jews of Jesus’ generation “studied the Scriptures” but refused to come to the Christ of the Scriptures in order to find real life. Amen.

 

Tuesday: read Matthew 12:38-39 and John 2:18-19. How tragic that Jesus’ own generation refused the sign of the resurrection even from early days in His ministry. For example, as early as John 2:19, Jesus answers the Jews’ demand for a sign by predicting that the temple of His body would be destroyed and then raised after three days. Though His disciples began to put their faith in Jesus at that time (see John 2:11), the teachers of the law, the Pharisees and the majority of His own people were not moved either by Jesus’ miracles (such as turning the water into wine in John 2:1-10), or by His teaching! They were not interested in the “saving sign” of Christ’s death and resurrection!

 

Meditate and Pray: How sober is the verdict which closes John 2: Jesus would not entrust Himself to these Jews who only believed in Him as a miracle-worker. He did not need their testimony about the marvel of His miracles, since they would not bow the knee to the greater marvel of His saving presence among them (John 2:24-25).

 

Wednesday: read Matthew 12:38-39 and Jonah 1:17-2:2. For the rest of the week, we are going to measure the extent of God’s amazing resurrection power by seeing how God was able to raise Jonah from the dead, and preserve his soul from eternal destruction. If God was able to raise and then save such a bitter, disobedient servant from certain death in the belly of the fish, what mighty saving work could be too much for Him to do in our lives?

 

Meditate and Pray: How wonderful to see God by grace re-write what would have been the certain sad end of the story for Jonah if he had been left to his own rebelliousness! Jonah becomes a sign of the greatest miracle of history – the resurrection! Jonah is the object of God’s saving grace, despite his refusal to obey God! Sing about such restorative grace in this hymn by Horatius Bonar (# 464 in our Trinity hymnals):


I was a wandering sheep,
I did not love the fold;
I did not love my Shepherd’s voice,
I would not be controlled.
I was a wayward child,
I did not love my home;
I did not love my Father’s voice,
I loved afar to roam.

The Shepherd sought His sheep,
The Father sought His child;
They followed me o’er vale and hill,
O’er deserts waste and wild;
They found me nigh to death,
Famished and faint and lone;
They bound me with the bands of love,
They saved the wand’ring one.


Thurs/Fri: read Jonah 2:1-10. Jonah 2 is the key to the book of Jonah – where we see how the Scriptures which Jonah learned even from boyhood in a godly Jewish home stayed with him even in the belly of the fish! Why do I say this prayer in Jonah 2, laced so beautifully with Scripture references, is the key to this book? Well, consider how we would evaluate Jonah’s life were Jonah 2 absent from this writing.

 

Would we find confident hope regarding Jonah’s eternal state from the tumultuous scene of Jonah chapter one, where Jonah despairs of life and tells the sailors to throw him overboard in verse 12? Would we find hope in Jonah confessing remorsefully that he knows the storm is his fault? Even Judas confessed that he betrayed innocent blood in his betrayal of Jesus! How about in Jonah 4, where Jonah lapses back into bitter regret that God saved any people from Nineveh at all? In Jonah 4:1-3, he declares that he is “angry enough to wish he were dead” and seeks to justify his flight away from Nineveh! Not much hope there! In fact, none of us would have concluded that Jonah had a future with God based solely on this anti-climactic final chapter! No! It is Jonah 2 where we see the heart of Jonah revived by the Scriptures! Consider, for example, some of the references, noting especially the last, where Jonah echoes the prayer of Solomon at the dedication of the temple:

 

(Jonah 2:2): “I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me.”

(Psalm 120:1): “In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me.”

 

(Jonah 2:2b): “Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.”

(Psalm 18:5): “The cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.”

 

(Jonah 2:3): “For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me.”

(Ex 15:4-5): “Pharaoh’s chariots and his host God cast into the sea, and his chosen officers were sunk in the Red Sea. The floods covered them; they went down into the depths like a stone.”

 

(Jonah 2:3b): “All your waves and your billows  passed over me.”

(Psalm 42:7): “All your breakers and your waves have gone over me.”

 

(Jonah 2:4): “Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’”

(1 Kings 8:28-30): “Yet have regard to the prayer of your servant and to his plea, O Lord my God, listening to the cry and to the prayer that your servant prays before you this day, that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may listen to the prayer that your servant offers toward this place. And listen to the plea of your servant and of your people Israel, when they pray toward this place. And listen in heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear, forgive.”

 

Meditate and Pray: How wonderful to see the Spirit of God do the deep heart work in Jonah which only God could do – reminding him of the Scriptures which He had known from of old. Though Jonah’s body is in the watery prison of the deep (Jonah 2:6); though his soul is held by the bondage of his rebellion before God, and his sinful will appears to triumph as he asks to be thrown to his death instead of repenting and returning to Nineveh in Jonah 1:12, God’s word in Jonah’s life is not bound! By His word alone, God resurrects saving faith in Jonah! Jonah can then go to Nineveh “obeying the word of the Lord” in Jonah 3:3! And that word will have power among the Ninevites, even as it had power in the prophet’s life as well! Praise God!

Sing about the unchanging power of God’s word to sovereignly hold sway in the hearts of sinners, using hymn # 59:

Forever settled in the heav’ns,
Thy Word, O Lord, shall firmly stand;
Thy faithfulness shall never fail;
The earth abides at Thy command.

Thy Word and works unmoved remain,
Thine every purpose to fulfill;
All things are Thine and Thee obey,
And all as servants wait Thy will.

I should have perished in my woe
Had not I loved Thy law divine;
That law I never can forget;
O save me, Lord, for I am Thine.

The wicked would destroy my soul,
But in Thy truth is refuge sure;
Exceeding broad is Thy command,
And in perfection shall endure.