The Christ-Centered Life Series: God in Control

Sermon – God in Control

Sunday 13 September 2020

Ps Ben Hooman

The title of the series we are in is ‘The Christ-centered life’, how to pursue a God-centered life by learning in the way that the prophet Jonah avoided it. It is an extraordinary story because we saw last time that Jonah was a mature believer with a very well-respected ministry. He saw miracles in his own life and his preaching was used to transform a pagan city.

When Jonah writes his book, he wants us to know that he spends most of his life avoiding the God that he set out to serve. It gives us an insight into some of the inner struggles that go on in the life of a Christian believer. And especially someone that is deeply committed to the cause of Jesus Christ.

We saw that although Jonah had a widely appreciated ministry, he seems to love the love the work he was involved in. but his life unravelled when God called him to leave the work that he loved and begin something new, a defining moment for Jonah. He really discovered how selfish he was at that time. God has a passion for the lost people, but Jonah’s heart was rapped up in his own comfort and in his own convenience.

The prayer that will run right through this series is: Lord make me less than Jonah and make me more like Jesus!

Let us take up the story from where Jonah ran away from the Lord and was heading for Tarshish. Please open your Bible at the book of Jonah chapter one.

Why did Jonah go to Tarshish? Why did he not just stay at Gath Hepher and carry on with what he was doing? Jonah was a prophet. That meant that he received revelations directly from God. When Jonah refused God’s call, he knew that God would no longer give him these revelations. That meant Jonah could not continue as a prophet. If he made up his own prophecies, he would be a false prophet, and the penalty for that was stoning. And if he simply stopped prophesying, Jonah’s rebellion against God would be exposed.

So Jonah’s choice was either to obey God or to quit being a prophet and start over with a new life in a new place. It was Nineveh or Tarshish; staying in Gath Hepher was not an option.

Circumstances: Opportunities that may lead you further into sin

“But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.” (Jonah 1:3)

If you decide to go to Tarshish, there will always be a ship to get you there! If you have decided in your heart to disobey God, you will always have the opportunity to do so.

Spurgeon told a story about a man who had a violent temper. There was a pattern to his behaviour: the man would get angry, then he would lose his temper, and when that happened, he would end up throwing something. Spurgeon said about him “What struck me was not that he got angry, nor that he threw something when he was angry, but that whenever he was angry, there was always something at hand to throw!”

Never trust circumstances when you are resisting God’s Word. If you are running from God there will always be opportunities to make your sin and rebellion worse. Jonah is running from the Lord, and there’s a boat waiting to take him out of God’s will!

Thank God that’s not the end of the story. Jonah’s sinful heart was taking him away from God, but God was intent on bringing him back.

“Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up… The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, ‘What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?’ ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea,’ he replied, ‘and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.’ Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before. Then they cried to the LORD, ‘O LORD, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O LORD, have done as you pleased.’ Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows to him.” (Jonah 1:4, 11-16) (NIV)

At this point, Jonah tells us the remarkable story of how the ship’s crew became God-centered believers. These pagan men were wonderfully converted, and in their story, we have one of the clearest pictures of the Gospel in the whole of the Bible: The Gospel is about the storm and the sacrifice; the storm of God’s judgment and the sacrifice by which we can be saved. Some false doctrines will disregard the presence of the Gospel in the Old Testament.

The Storm

“The Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up.” (Jonah 1:4)

Think about this, God sent the storm. Literally, Jonah says “God hurled a storm on the sea”. Storms don’t happen by chance. Nature does not operate by its own independent power. God sustains all things by His powerful word.

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3)

When the disciples were with Jesus in the middle of a storm, they said “Who is this? Even the winds and the waves obey Him” (Mark 4:41)

Intervention: Sovereign judgments that release His mercy

When it comes to storms, disasters, or tragedies in your life, you have two choices in what to believe: Either God is in control or He is a helpless observer.

Someone might ask “Doesn’t it give you problems if you say that God controls all things, even storms that wreck ships?” No! I would rather live with the so-called “problem” of God being sovereign over all things than with the problem of a so-called “god” who is a helpless or passive observer.

God sends the storm. The storm is God’s intervention in Jonah’s life. Thank God he didn’t leave Jonah to his own free will! Jonah’s will was moving him in the wrong direction to a wasted life. He was going to Tarshish!

God was graciously messing with Jonah’s rebellious will to save him from a life wasted in disobedience in a place God never intended him to be. And, at the same time, God was stepping in to redeem the ship’s crew who didn’t know the first thing about Him.

Are you not glad that God intervened in your life? Where would you have been if it was not for His gracious intervention into your life!

Our God is amazing: Even His judgments are means of His mercy. If He uses the crucifixion of His own Son to redeem the world, you can trust His wise and loving hand in the fiercest storms of your life.

Hold tightly in knowing that God is sovereign and we are living in a confusing world.

Compromise: The silent witness of a disobedient believer

“All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep. The captain went to him and said, ‘How can you sleep? Get up and call on your God! Maybe He will take notice of us, and we will not perish.” (Jonah 1:5-6)

Remember that at this point, the ship’s crew did not know God. They had their own religion and like many people today they did not know the God of the Bible. So when they found themselves in the storm, they were all afraid and each cried out to his own god.

They all had a religion. And when the boat was in a storm, they all began to pray. Does that sound familiar of these days. We don’t know how many crew members were on the boat, but “each” of them cried out to his own god. So a lot of “gods” were being asked to help. But it wasn’t making any difference. Many people, even Christians, cry out to other gods in these times; to false prophets, to banks, to fortune tellers, to alcohol, to drugs, etc.

Jonah had gone below deck, and he had fallen into a deep sleep. “The captain went to him and said ‘get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take note of us, and we will not perish”. “Our gods haven’t done anything. Why don’t you try yours!”

But Jonah is silent. He cannot pray. How can you pray to God when you are actively disobeying His word? Christian believers running from God are of no use to lost people in a storm. R.T. Kendall says: “One of the most embarrassing things that can happen to a backslidden Christian is to have somebody come up to him and say: ‘I want you to pray for me.’”

Maybe you see yourself in Jonah here. Compromise is the silent witness of a disobedient believer. Your witness is silent. Your ability to help lost people is compromised because you are locked into an unresolved conflict with God.

Jonah was silent because of his secret sin. His rebellion against God was hidden. The life of every person on the ship was on the line, and the one person on the ship who knew God had nothing to offer, because he was immobilized by his own sin. Thank God it doesn’t end there.

Exposure: The love of God brings hidden sin into the open

“Then the sailors said to each other, ‘Come let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.’ They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah.” (Jonah 1:7)

God steps in to expose Jonah’s sin, and He does this in an unusual way: God allows a tumbling dice to expose the secret sin of His rebellious servant. God is sovereign even over the role of a dice.

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33)

The lot fell on Jonah, and Jonah’s secret was out. Remember, if God exposes your sin, it is because He loves you. The Lord disciplines those He loves. He will not allow your unconfessed sins to remain. He steps in and what is not confessed is exposed. Paul confirms this by the following,

“… ‘My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not loose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, and punishes everyone He accepts as a son.” (Hebrews 12:6)

God loves Jonah, and He will not let him go. Jonah must have been relieved when his secret was out. He was carrying the burden of a secret unconfessed sin and he was unable to pray. At one time King David carried a secret sin in his life. The prophet Nathan came and God used him to expose the unconfessed sin in David’s life. He writes about what that was like,

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away for my groaning all day long. For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Selah (which means “think about that.”) Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and You forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah” (Think about that!) (Psalm 32:3-5)

Exposure: The judgment of God brings hope

“So they asked him, ‘Tell us who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?’ He answered, ‘I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, THE God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.’ This terrified them and they asked, ‘What have you done?’. (They knew he was running from the LORD, because he had already told them so.) (Jonah1:9-10)

When God exposed Jonah’s sin, it was the beginning of hope for Jonah and for the entire crew of the ship. The crew peppered Jonah with questions: “What do you do? Where do you come from?” Jonah tells them he is running from the Lord.

They peppered him with questions. The crew want to know about the God Jonah is running from: He tells them, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land”.

When Jonah’s sin is exposed, his silence is broken. Now he is able to tell the crew about the God of the Bible who is unlike any other gods. He is the God of heaven who created the earth. He rules over winds and waves, and exposes His rebellious servants. He is the God who allow storms, wrecks ships, and the God who saves them too.

The storm is clearly a judgment from God. An ordinary group of men, who have been this way many times before, are caught in this storm of God’s judgment that is going to wreck their ship and end their lives.

The beginning of his judgment is poured out in this life, but the eye of the storm will come after we die, “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

This points us to an awesome Bible truth: All humanity is under the judgment of God on account of our sins. God is against us and stands opposed to us on account of our sins. Suddenly the crew gets a glimpse of who God is, and they say to Jonah: “What should we do? How can we pacify the anger of God? What can we do to placate him?”

“The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, ‘What shall we do to you to make the sea calm down for us? (Jonah 1:11)

That is the single most important question in the Bible. If God is against us, we have no hope and no future. What can we do? When you really come to the God of the bible you ask this question. It is about the storm, and it is about the sacrifice. That takes us to the second great theme of this story:

The Sacrifice

“Pick me up and throw me into the sea,’ he replied, ‘and it will become calm’. I know it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” (Jonah 1:12)

“If you want to be saved from the fierce anger of God, throw me overboard!” How did Jonah know that the sea would become calm if they threw him out of the boat? There can only be one answer to that; God must have revealed it. In other words, Jonah was receiving revelation from God again.

When Jonah’s sin is exposed, God’s silence is ended, and Jonah speaks as a prophet again: He tells the crew what they must do to be saved: “Pick me up and throw me into the sea.” This is a marvellous moment in the story.

Refusal: Our first instinct is to row instead of listen

“Instead, the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not, for the sea grew even wilder than before.” (Jonah 1:13)

Notice that the first instinct of the crew is to refuse the sacrifice. I’m sure that sprung from their desire to spare Jonah’s life, but it was also in direct contradiction to the prophetic Word of God.

A picture of the surest way to avoid a Christ-centered life. The crew felt that they could get through the storm without sacrificing Jonah. “We can beat this storm. We don’t need the sacrifice.” So they row harder!

Can you feel the weight of the picture? God has spoken through the prophet: “Pick me up and throw me into the sea and it will become calm.” Sacrifice Jonah and you will be saved from the storm. But these men think they can save themselves without the sacrifice! So they row harder. They made a phenomenal effort to get back to the shore.

The strength of this impulse to refuse the sacrifice is significant. There is a deep-seated pride in the human heart that says “We can make it through the judgment of God,” and as long as you feel that, you will avoid a Christ-centered life. “if I run harder, if I try harder to be a better person. I think I can make it through the judgement”. That is an impulse in us that immediately acts against the idea of being saved from God’s judgement by the sacrifice of someone else.

There is a poem by William Ernst Henley called Invictus that catches the spirit of these men: Out of the night that covers me, Black as the Pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be. For my unconquerable soul… It matters not how strait the gate. How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul.

There’s great courage in that, but there’s also extraordinary resistance to God: “I am the Lord of my life. I am the captain of my soul, of my own destiny. It doesn’t matter what judgments God throws out, I’m in charge!” That is the polar opposite of a Christ-centered life!

That’s where the sailors were: “We can get through this. We can out row God’s storm. We’re not going to sacrifice you, Jonah. We can out row the judgement of God!” let us see what happened next.

Turning: Recognize the impotence of your rowing

“Instead the men did their best to row back to land. But they could not for the sea grew even wilder than before.” (Jonah 1:13)

“But they could not…”. These four words are another turning point in the story. When the crew realized that they could not beat the storm, they turned, in their desperation, to what God has said through the prophet: “We’ve only one hope Jonah…” Jonah says “Do it!” And they staked their lives on the sacrifice of Jonah.

The storm of God’s judgment is stronger than you are. You can’t overcome sin enough, nor can you make yourself good enough to survive God’s storm. The storm of God’s judgment will wreck you, unless you are saved by the sacrifice of Someone else.

Do you see how beautifully this paints the picture of why Jesus Christ came into the world? This is why He went to the cross: He was cast out as a sacrifice to placate the wrath of God on your behalf. He died on that cross so that you should survive God’s judgment against sin in this life and in the world to come.

We are saved from that storm by His sacrifice. The Gospel is about the storm and the sacrifice; the judgement of God and salvation from and through that judgement by our Lord Jesus Christ.

How to pursue a Christ-centered life

“Then they cried to the Lord, ‘O Lord, please do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, O Lord, have done as you pleased’” (Jonah 1:14)

Turn to God and ask Him for mercy! “Then they cried to the Lord!”.

The ship’s crew see that the religion they have pursued is worthless. They abandon their own gods. What matters is that they find peace with the God of the Bible, who made the land and the sea, who allow storms, and who speaks through prophets to tell them how they can be saved:

Lord, have mercy on us! Do you see their recognition of the sanctity of life? They know that they are guilty for throwing Jonah overboard to his certain death.

Why did Jonah not jump overboard himself? I think the answer to that is that the whole Bible is given to us to help us know and understand Jesus Christ. The great events of the Bible story were shaped by God to throw light on what we most need to understand about our Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus did not take His own life. He was crucified. That truth is pictured in the crew throwing Jonah overboard. We are guilty of the crucifixion of the Son of God, just as the crew were guilty of throwing a man who had done them no wrong overboard. Yet amazingly the sacrifice in which we incur guilt, becomes in God’s amazing grace the means of our salvation!

Abandon all hope of self-rescue and stake your life on Christ who was cast out as a sacrifice to placate the wrath of God for you!

“They took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the LORD, and they offered sacrifices to the LORD and made vows to Him.” (Jonah 1:15)

These men saw their guilt in the sacrifice as they were responsible for taking Jonah’s life. Yet to their amazement they found salvation through the sacrifice. God’s storm ended when Jonah was thrown overboard.

We crucified the Son of God and that’s our guilt in the sacrifice. Yet He chose to lay down His life as a sacrifice for us! That is our salvation through the sacrifice!

There is this obvious and very great difference between Jonah and Jesus: Jonah was thrown into the sea on account of his own sins. Jesus was nailed to the cross on account of your sins and mine. He was without sin. He became the sacrifice for our sins. He bore our guilt. And in His death, He absorbed the judgment of God on our behalf. That is the Gospel.

Pledge your redeemed life to Jesus Christ

“At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to Him.” (Jonah 1:16)

That was there response. Many people make promises to God in the middle of a crisis. What is impressive here is that these men made vows to God after He delivered them from the storm. That shows a real change of heart, a genuine conversion. The evidence of a real conversion is a changed heart.

These men feel that they have come back from the dead. The life they now have is like a resurrection. This new life has been bought with a price, and the only thing they can do with this new life is give it back to the God who saved them. They feel that they are no longer their own, so they pledge their redeemed lives to God.

The following poem was written anonymously by a person who clearly loved the Lord and wanted to show how different a Christ-centered life is:

Out of the night that dazzles me, Bright as the sun from pole to pole, I thank the God I know to be. For Christ the conqueror of my soul…. I have no fear, though strait the gate, He cleared from punishment the scroll. Christ is the Master of my fate, Christ is the Captain of my soul.

Let us pray:

Thank you Lord that You have not left us to ourselves. You have not abandoned us in the storm, but even the storm is full of Your mercy. In Christ You gave that sacrifice so that we may be saved. That we may bow before You and know we live no longer for ourselves, but for the Son of God that loved us and gave Himself for us. Thank you for the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ and we thank You in His wonderful and glorious Name, Amen.

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