Recently, God has lead me to something new. Like with anything He leads us into, it is a mixture of emotions. Excitement, nervousness; a constant yo-yo of doubting my ability and trusting in His. Following Jesus is never boring, I tell you that.
But, what is this new venture? Well, I have been given the privilege of an opportunity to preach at my church, Sheffield Vineyard (tomorrow by the time this post goes up!). ‘Wait, what? You want me to talk?!’, was my initial reaction. My comfort zone upfront in church is behind a guitar. Leading worship is something I know how to do, or at least it is an area of leadership that I am used to. Preaching? That’s a whole new ball game. Fears that I wouldn’t have anything valuable to say, that I would mess up and do those listening a disservice inevitably crept into my noggin. But fear doesn’t stand a chance when God is in the room. And He reminded me that it wouldn’t be my words coming out of my mouth, but His. So, I decided to say yes and give it a go.
And God has so abundantly blessed me as I have been preparing. He has spoke to me in such gentle whispers, led me to a place where He has shown me His heart. I have fallen in love afresh with the gospel message and feel full to bursting with joy of His indescribable mercy and grace. He has been singing over me through this whole process, and I am so excited to deliver the message that He has been planting in my heart.
The series we are doing at church is on the story of Jonah, and I am talking on chapter 2; the section after Jonah has been thrown into the deep depths of the ocean by the sailors and has been given a lifeline from God in the shape of a big fish. It’s a story any Sunday school kid will know well, probably in the form of a Veggietales episode and a bunch of singing asparagus’ (if you know, you know). But this story is actually so much more meaty that that. Jonah’s story is a hard hitting, unquestionable portrayal of God’s extreme love and mercy for His children. That’s what I’ve come to learn as I’ve been preparing, and it’s given me fresh eyes to gaze in awe at my King and what He has done for us.
This post isn’t a transcript of my sermon, because that would be loooooong. But I wanted to briefly highlight a few of the main points God showed to me, to perhaps invite you to read or reread the book and consider how it beautifully depicts God’s mercy. If you wanted to learn more though, feel free to head to Sheffield Vineyard’s website where all the talks will be recorded.
This book is like an onion. On the surface layer, we see a man whose sinful rebellion against God has lead him to death, to a watery grave, but who has been saved through God’s sheer mercy. There is nothing Jonah did to deserve it. He is caged in by the bars of death, completely powerless, with nowhere else to turn but to cry out to his God for help. And because God loves Jonah, despite of his past, present and future sin, he readily and abundantly responds, delivering him back into the realm of the living.
Peel off a layer, and we see that the story of Jonah is a shadow of the story of Jesus. In Matthew 12 it says ‘For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth’. Jesus is saying that He is the ultimate Jonah. Because God loves us and wants to protect us from the consequences of our sin, He sent His one and only son, Jesus Christ, to literally become our sin, to be thrown into the waves and to pay the penalty for our sin by dying on a cross. All so that we don’t have to. Through rising again, He trampled the power of death so that it can no longer have a hold on us. Through his death, we have been released into freedom!
And that freedom starts now. On earth, we will still face suffering. It is the nature of our broken world. But God is an intimate God and He promises to walk through the storms that we face with us. He is by our side, and uses all the situations we face for our good and for His glory. Jonah 2:2 says ‘in my distress I called to the Lord, and He answered me’. God’s heart breaks to see His children in pain and distress. He so readily wants to help us. We don’t have to be perfect. Just like He did with Jonah, God meets us in our mess and imperfection. It’s not a question of worthiness. It’s a question of willingness. Do we accept that God is working for our good? Are we willing to let Him guide us towards this goodness?
There is so much beauty in the story of Jonah that it’s actually devastating that the limelight is often stolen by the cameo appearance of a big fish! Yes, it’s makes a great story. But there’s an even greater story to be told. The story of God’s mercy.