By Stephen Wang
06 Jan. 2013 Sunday
|Sermon: God of Compassion||video||audio||ppt
|Worship song: The Gift Of Knowing You这一生最美的祝福||video||audio||lyric|
|Worship song: Here I Am To Worship||video||audio||lyric|
|Worship song: Give thanks||video||audio||lyric|
|Worship song: I Sing Praises To Your Name||video||audio||lyric|
We do not have as many people as last week because many are still working today. I am so grateful that I am off from work today. And it is also my great honor to serve today because it is the first Sunday of the New Year.
This winter is, I think, the coldest winter since I have been in Beijing. Many people do not like the weather in Beijing, but I do. Because I am from a southern city of China, I think Beijing has very clear four seasons, and winter is so cold. And sometimes, it looks not vivid, and everything looks dead. It is very gray, and the air condition is not that ideal.
But I think, it is like our life that sometimes we feel that we are in trials, in sorrow or fear. We feel that we are buried in snow, in a very cold place that we cannot grow. But spring will come. And every time in spring, when you notice the first green, you know that life has come back. God will give us life, too, and we will raise our heads.
So I hope that this will encourage everyone that in the New Year, let’s have a new plan, and let’s walk with God, and put everything that we desire and wish into God’s hands, and God will take care of us. And let’s follow God’s instructions.
Also, I was very touched last week when I heard a song, the lyrics of which were quoted by Queen Elizabeth, that I want to share with you.
It is from the song In the Bleak Midwinter. I guess many of you know this.
“What can I give him? Poor as I am.
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb.
If I were a wise man, I would do my part.
Yet, what can I give him? Give my heart.”
So, in the New Year, let’s give our hearts to God, and God will give us miracles. Let’s bow down our heads and pray.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for this Sunday that you bring us back to the church, and we give you our prayers, our desires, our wishes and our New Year’s plans (into your hands). Father, let us cherish the time, the day you give us and we would cherish every moment and make it count. Father, please clear our hearts, and let us always be drawn near to you so that we can be your friends, and know how much you love us. Also, I pray for those who are still in fear, in trials and in life difficulties. Father, let us know that you are God of compassion, you are God of love, and you will set us free in the New Year, Father, let us have a brand new start, and let us count your blessings, and depend on your grace everyday. Today, I also pray for Stephen, who will give us a sermon later. I pray that what he preaches today will fill our spirit, and give us joy. Thank you Lord. I also pray for those who cannot attend church today. May your Holy Spirit be with them and bless them. Thank you Lord for listening to our prayers. And we pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Now, let’s join the worship team to give thanks to God.
Worship song: The gift of knowing you这一生最美的祝福
|Verse||When I see the starts at night
How my heart is drawn to you
And their light shines Your grace on me
How I long to be with You
I lift my voice in praise,
I will love You with my life
For Your beauty and Your goodness never end
|Chorus||Nothing compares to knowing You
You are the treasure of my life
Trusting in Jesus Christ my Lord
My richest blessing in the world
In the valleys or on high
You are with me all the time
Thank You Lord,for the gift of knowing You
|Verse CN||在无数的黑夜里, 我用星星画出你,
zai wu shu de hei ye li, wo yong xing xing hua chu ni,
ni de en dian ru chen xing rang wo zhen shi di jian dao ni
zai wo de ge sheng li, wo yong yin fu zan mei ni,
Ni de mei hao shi wo jin sheng song yang de
|Chorus CN||这一生最美的祝福, 就是能认识主耶稣,
zhe yi sheng zui mei de zhu fu, jiu shi neng ren shi zhu ye su
zhe yi sheng zui mei de zhu fu, jiu shi neng xin kao zhu ye su
zou zai gao shan shen gu, ta hui ban wo tong xing
Wo zhi dao zhe shi zui mei de zhu fu
Worship song: Here I Am To Worship
|Verse 1||Light of the world
You stepped down into darkness
Opened my eyes, let me see
Beauty that made this heart adore You
Hope of a life spent with You
|Chorus||Here I am to worship
Here I am to bow down
Here I am to say that You're my God
You're altogether lovely
Altogether wonderful to me
|Verse 2||King of all days
Oh so highly exalted
Glorious in Heaven above
Humbly You came to the earth You created
All for love's sake became poor
|Bridge||I'll never know how much it cost
To see my sin upon that cross
Scripture Reading: Jonah 1:1-9
1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: 2 “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.”
3 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.
4 Then the LORD sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. 5 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. 6 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.”
7 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.
8 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?”
9 He answered, “I am a Hebrew and I worship the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the land.”
Good morning. Let us begin with a prayer.
God, our Father, you are the maker of heaven and earth, and you are exalted above the heavens. And you are the God of the church, you are the God of the redeemed. You are the God who sent your son our Lord Jesus Christ to lay down His life on the cross to win us back to yourself. You are the God of this church. You are the God of the church of the country of China. You gave birth to the church in China and you have given your church LIFE in China. You have protected your church in China. You have prospered your church in China. You are the God of gods, the Lord of Lords and the king of kings. And you are our personal friend. And Father, we pray that you will glorify yourself in your church and through your church in this land of China. We want you to be our King. We want you to be filled with great pleasure and joy as you behold our country China. We want you to smile. We want you to have the fullness of joy in this land of China. So Lord, bless your church here; bless your people here. And fill this land with your glory; fill this land with the knowledge of yourself. Father, as we study your Word today, speak to us, teach us, correct us, train us, transform us, so that you will be glorified forevermore. I pray in Jesus’ name. Amen!
Ok, so today we are studying our series in the book of Jonah. And it starts with a shipwreck, a very difficult circumstance. Some will say it is impossible. A friend of mine told me about the series – Mission Impossible, right? Lots of very difficult circumstances, but with all their gadgets, and their expertise, they seek to overcome impossible situations.
So easy for them, those actors. But when we face impossible missions, it does not seem that easy. Perhaps you are facing an impossible situation, your academics, how am I going to finish my thesis? Perhaps financial, how can I pay all my debts? How can I find the right spouse? How can I find the right career? So many very impossible situations when we are facing them. As you get to my age, there would be illness, and how am I ever going to get over that illness. Am I ever going to get well? Many many impossible missions, it seems.
Introduction to the book of Jonah
Well, today we have Jonah being caught in an impossible mission. I will divide our time together in three divisions. Our first division “People”; the second division “Places”; And the third division “Principles”. “People, Places and Principles”. The ‘who’, ‘where’ and ‘what’ of the book of Jonah.
The first division “People”
Let’s start with Jonah. We read in the first verse. It is said here:
“The word of Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai”.
So we find out that his name is Jonah. What is the meaning of Jonah? His name means “dove”. Like the Holy Spirit who brings the word of peace to us. Jonah is God’s man to bring the word of peace to the people of Nineveh. He is the son of Amittai. Amittai means “true one”, “trustworthy one”. That is a good name, isn’t it? It describes our God very aptly, doesn’t it? What we know about Jonah? Well, we find out that he is a Galilean. His hometown Gath Hepher, is just outside of Nazareth. Isn’t that interesting? There are also some good things coming out of Galilee, right? Some very good people.
Now we know that Jonah is a very zealous man. He was very zealous of Israel’s relationship with God.
“We are God’s people. And we have a special relationship with God.”
And he is very zealous about that. We need more people like him in that regard, to be zealous and jealous about our relationship with God, because we value our relationship with God so preciously.
Historic background of Jonah
Jonah served and lived through the reign of Jeroboam II. This is approximately between 793 and 753 BC (8th century before Christ). As you can see (on the screen), this is where Jonah fits in all the other prophets, the Major prophets and the Minor prophets between that time period of 8th century before Christ.
Now, Jeroboam II is probably the most famous, and most successful king of the Northern Kingdom. Israel at this time was divided in to Judah in the south, and Israel in the north. And this king, Jeroboam II, according to the prophecy that Jonah had pronounced, expanded Israel to its former glory. So this is a time of prosperity, this is a time of great pleasure. The people were very proud, and the people were very patriotic,
“Life is good! All is well!”
Not so. Unfortunately, prosperity and pleasure have a tendency to deafen our desire for God and spiritual things. And so, unfortunately, the land, yes, politically prosperous; but spiritually bankrupt. The people were stubborn, and the people were in sins.
Amos and Hosea, contemporaries of Jonah, were propheszing:
“If you continue in your indifference, if you continue in your sins, if you continue in your immorality and idolatry, our dear country is going to suffer a very, very bleak future. Our country is going to be captured; our people are going to be put in exile. And we are going to be conquered by those Assyrians.”
Who is the main character?
So that is a little bit about Jonah and a little bit about his time. Now, even though the book bears his name, he is not the main character. You are not surprised, the main character is God. The book starts with “The word of the Lord came to Jonah…”, and the book ends with God asking a question “Should I not be concerned”. So the book begins and ends with God. The book has over 40 references to “God” and “the Lord” explicitly. So if you take God out of the picture, out of the book, you have nothing. Similar to our lives, isn’t it? If you take God out of the equation, there is nothing left. So God is the main character in this text.
God reveals Himself in a few ways, so we are going to take a look at some of the Scriptures from chapters one to four. That shows us a little bit about who He is. God reveals Himself in verse nine as “the God of heaven”. He says,
“I am exalted. I am above all things. And I am Holy. I am apart, separate, and pure.” He says, “I am the maker of the Sea and the Land. Everything that you see, I made it, I own it and they are for my use. He says, “I am the sovereign God and I do as I please. My pleasure is my will and it will be done.” He also says, “Yes, I am sovereign. Yes, I do what I please. And I am also a personal God.” He is the personal God of Jonah and He is our personal God. He says, “I am the Lord of salvation and the source of salvation. I am the only one who can save. I am a God of grace and compassion. I am slow to anger and abounding in love, and a God who relents from sending calamity.”
We can see that He is the main actor. He is the principal person in the text, as well as in our lives. I believe you have experienced many of these characteristics and attributes (of God) in your lives and you say,
“Thank you God. You have revealed yourself like that to each one of us at different stages of our lives.”
Principle for the first division
So He is the main actor. The principle for this session is that
“The One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”
We have faced many impossible situations, adversities, as well as adversaries. The beautiful thing about it is that we do not face them alone. We have a God Immanuel who says “I am with you and I live in you”. He says,
“Not only do I live in you but I am greater than your circumstances.”
I know our circumstances tend to overwhelm us. I know sometimes we feel it is over our head. Too difficult, too impossible, too dark, too hard, too long…. Help! Help! Help! But God says,
“I am greater than your circumstances. In fact, I am sovereign.”
Question for the first division
So my question for you is this:
“Do you believe that God is sovereign? Will you believe God is always in control even in the worst of times?”
We sang about it, didn’t we?
“In the valleys or on high, knowing you is the most important thing in the whole world.”
Isn’t it? It has to be true for you. You may wonder, well I am a Christian, why does not it seem to get easier, but it is multiplying? The degree of difficulty, the multiplicity of difficulties, or the magnitude of the difficulties…. They seem to come like a tide of wave. Why?
Faith! Faith! I have found in my long life on earth that it never seems to get easier, because God desires us to exercise our faith. But you know the wonderful thing about it, yes, it does not get easier, but the joys get deeper. It does not always get easier, but the joys get very much deeper! As you journey with God, and He reveals Himself to you personally in your trials, in your impossible situations, your joy will get deeper, like a fountain welling up inside of you, inextinguishable flame and inexhaustible joy that this world cannot take away, that no suffering or impossible situation can remove the joy of knowing Jesus, the joy of being held by Jesus., the joy of being sustained by Jesus, the joy of knowing Jesus (Philippians 3:10). So it does not get easier all the time. But the joys are definitely there.
The second division “Places”
On the second division, we are going to talk about the places. The primary place is, of course, Nineveh, where God is sending Jonah. What do we know about Nineveh? Well, it is approximately 800 kilometer away from Samaria. It was a leading city and the future capital of Syria. The Syrians were then a world power, but they were going through some very difficult times at that time. There were famines and internal civil strives, so they were a little bit weak at that time. But nevertheless, they were a great enemy to Israel.
Think about someone that you have great difficulty with. This is worse, really, really bad. These people were infamous for their cruelty, they were bloodthirsty, they were war-like, they were violent. God said their wickedness came up to Him. They piled up so much wickedness, they were so violent, so evil that God said “I had to do something about it”. That is what we know about these people. They were the enemies. What was really difficult is that God had pronounced through Hosea that He was going to use this very people to capture and to exile the people of God- the Israelites. So this was really hard for Jonah. “We are God’s people. How could we be humiliated so much? How could we be put in a disciplinary situation by those terrible people, by those enemies?”
Now Jonah had a choice, right? There was a choice between Nineveh and Tashish. “Should I go to Nineveh, 800 kilometer away or should I run away to Tashish, 3200 kilometer km away?” And He chose the long way. And this is what sin tends to be. People think sin is a shortcut. Actually sin is the long way, always. Always, sin is the long way. You never ever accelerate the process or the progress that you are seeking by sinning. Sinning is always the long way. The shortest way is always to obey. If you do not obey right away, God is going to continue to teach you about the lesson over and over and over until we get it. Take it from me. Yes, it is hard to obey. But yes, it is the shortest way and the best way, because it pleases God. God is wise and He knows it.
Principle for the second division
So my principle for you today is that “The safest place is not running away from God. The safest place to be is always in God’s presence. The safest place to be is always in God’s will. The safest place to be is doing what He calls you to do.” That is always the safest place.
Question for the second division
So my questions for you then, the first question is, “Where are you headed in life? Where is your life headed?” Secondly, “Will you consciously seek to be where God wants you to be?” Some of us live lives drifting, whatever happens, whatever door opens, wherever the wind blows, wherever… But are you living consciously, purposefully, and intentionally? Are you where God wants you to be? Do you ask yourself that or pray about that? There is a purpose for you in life. Nothing is by chance. You are not living life just for yourself. God created you and has a plan for you, a very beautiful plan. Are you wondering “why am I not enjoying life? Why is my life not full, not meaningful?” Are you where God wants you to be?
Are you willing to make sacrifice to be where God wants you to be? Will you obey when you hear God calling you to be somewhere? This is regarding your work, where you live, whether you go to church, what you do in church. Where do you want me God? Cry out to Him. “Father, where do you want me to be?” Ask Him and He will show you. He will tell you and He delights to let you know. He wants you to know that He wants you to be in the safest place, at the center of His will. That is where you want to be, always at the center of His will.
The third division “Principles”
Our final division is called the Principles. We are going to look at a few of the repeated words, to get an idea of some of the main thoughts inside of this passage. The first word or idea that repeats itself very frequently is “down” or “depth”. It repeats itself for ten times. And this will describe what will happen to a believer with disobedience. As soon as you disobey, life goes down. And you could see that progression with Jonah. He heads down to Joppa, he goes down to the deck of the ship, he goes down into a deep sleep, he goes down into the water, then he goes down into the depth of the sea, down beneath the earth, down into the pit, down into the fish. Life is down when you are disobedient. Conversely, life is up when you are obedient.
“Pray”. The word or idea of “prayer” in this text tends to be more of a calling out and a crying out. Because we are facing a lot of impossible situations, the people in the story are shouting out and crying out. And I think it will do us well to have that kind of passion, and to have that kind of urgency when you pray. Do not just say, “Heavenly Father, blablabla…” No no no. Prayer must come from the heart. Prayer must come from every fiber in your body, every part of your mind, your strength, your emotion, you must pray with your whole body! Strength! Call out to God!
I know that people beside you might think, “Oh, strange!” Do not worry, God is your audience! He is the One who delights in a prayer that is flowing out of a genuine heart. So shout out, call out!
The other word that appears quite a bit in this passage is the word of “great”. It appears for about nine times. And it describes the “great” city, the “great” fish, the “great” fear, the “great” storm, and the “great” people. And this idea of “great” essentially pertains to importance, to significance. Yes, the problems are great in terms of magnitude. But when He (God) talks about the “great” city, He is referring specifically to the fact that “these people are important to me”. You may think that “I am not that important”. Yes, you are, you are great in God’s sight! God thinks you are great! He created you; you are His workmanship. You are a vessel of honor, and He loves you, He is proud of you. You are great! And you are greater still as you obey and offer your worship to Him.
The next word is “WORD”! Because it is all about God’s WORD. This passage and book is full of “the Word of the Lord came”, “the Word of the Lord came”, “the Word of the Lord came”. You might wonder, “Why can I not hear God?! Why, when I pray, I do not hear anyone? Hello? Hello? I do not hear anyone.” Are you reading God’s Word? When you pray, are you reading God’s Word? Do you say, “Lord, OK, I have this question for you, please speak to me in your Word. Show me a passage, bring back to my memory some verses that are really important, that will really help to answer the questions I am facing.” You know, read God’s Word! You want to hear God? Read God’s Word! Read God’s Word silently; read God’s Word aloud! Read God’s Word individually; read God’s Word together! Read, read, read God’s Word! God’s Word will not return to Him void. God’s Word will accomplish His purpose. If you want to hear from God, read God’s Word.
Another thing about prayer is that you have got to listen, spend time and listen. If you want to hear somebody else saying to you, do you not have to (Stephen muffled his own mouth)? You have to close your mouth. So listen, spend time listening. Because what God has to say tends to be more important, more useful and wiser than what you have to tell Him. Do not tell Him how to run your life, but say, “Lord, can you run my life? Tell me, what is it? How do you want to run my life?”
Principle for the third division
There are quite a few words, other words (that appear several times in the text). But we are going to move to the principle. The principle for this section here is “Judgment is imminent, but God will relent when sinners repent”.
Now, this is not a popular thing—“judgment, judgment is imminent”. Nobody likes to hear that “you are going to be judged”. God is holy, God is pure, God is light and there is no darkness in Him, and so God says, “I have to judge. I have to judge.” So judgment is imminent, it is inevitable; it is something none of us wants to ever face. But there is a solution. God says, “I will relent when you repent. When you turn away from your sins; when you say, “Sorry, God, for hurting you. I am sorry for hurting you, God.” When you say, “God, I want to follow you from now on.” When you say, “God, I believe in you, I trust in you in every situation, and in every way, no matter how impossible my situation is, I want to trust in you.” This is what God wants to hear from you. He will, and He has provided the perfect forgiveness, the eternal life, the perfect solution through our Lord Jesus Christ.
We all at birth face an impossible situation, we are children of wrath, we are all destined to die. But God provided us with a perfect solution—Himself, His Son Jesus. And He will relent, He will not send that wrath upon us because Jesus Christ Himself took that wrath upon Himself for us. Jesus died for us, willingly, Jesus died for us, knowing who we are. Sometimes I think it is easier if you do not know some one, you can love them because you do not know all their faults. But you know, that is the difference with God. He knows every single thing about us; He knows everything that people cannot see. He knows. He knows what is behind this suit; He knows what is behind this tie; He knows what is inside of my heart; He knows what is inside of my mind. And yet, He still says,
“I know that you are frail; I know that you are weak; I know that you are going to betray me; I know that you will have times of failing. But I am a God of compassion; I am a God of mercy; I am a God of grace. I am slow to anger and abounding in love (Exodus 34:6; Jonah 4:2). I will never ever forsake you, because you are my child, you have given your heart to me.”
Question for the third division
The question we have to ask ourselves when we look at this passage is, “Are you a Jonah in chapter one running away from God? Are you a Jonah in chapter two running to God? Are you a Jonah in chapter three running with God? Are you a Jonah in chapter four running against God?” All of us are either “running from, to, with or against” God. Where are you at? Where is your life headed? I pray that you are running with God.
Application for this study
Our application that we are going to take together (we have that on the screen),
“We worship you, author of salvation. Thank you for never giving upon us. Forgive our indifference for the perishing. Send revival by spreading your gospel of Life through us all over our nation.”
I said earlier that we are all facing some very challenging circumstances, some missions impossible. But remember what we read last time when we were together? Angel Gabriel said to Mary, “Nothing is impossible with God.” My family had a number of very difficult years, and it was health-related. We have cried out to God so many times, and, as we sat down before God, or knelt down before the altar, we have had so many times of silence. There was a lot of silence. Sometimes, that silence was deafening. “Lord, I just want to hear from you. Lord, I just want to hear a simple word from you.” And every time, our Bible was closed, of course, God was silent. But every time we opened up the Word of God, the flood of comfort, peace, joy and strength has sustained us, and has given us great joy through these difficult times. Yes, our situation has not resolved, we are still facing a very difficult health situation. But as I have told you, the joys multiply and deepen because knowing Jesus is indeed the most important thing in the whole world.
So I pray that we journey through the year ahead, that knowing Jesus Christ will be your priority, and that you will experience the joy I am talking about, the joy of knowing God’s compassion and God’s unfailing love. May Jesus Christ be gloried through you in this church and throughout our nation of China. God bless you!
Transcribed and edited by Esther, Emily, Franz and Liu Laoshi with grace and peace from our Lord Jesus.