“Now the LORD had appointed a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17, NIV).
Many of us are familiar with the Old Testament story of Jonah. If you’re like me, you heard it as a child in Sunday School or read about it in a picture book. There’s something about a man being swallowed by a giant fish that fascinates children and adults alike.
Some people say that the story of Jonah is literal truth, that a man actually spent three days in the stomach of a fish and lived to tell about it. They reason that, with God, anything is possible, all the while taking to heart Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:40. Others believe that the story of Jonah is symbolic truth, that it didn’t really happen in the way we read it, but that it is merely symbolic of the grander story of God and man. While, personally, I tend to take more of a literal view of Scripture, I respect the opinions of other thoughtful folks. Regardless of how we might view the story of Jonah, literally or symbolically, I think we can all say that it tells great truth about the rebellion of people and God’s pursuing grace.
Let’s face it. Jonah was a rebel toward God. He was a runaway. Jonah was commanded by God to preach a message of repentance to the wicked people of Ninevah, but instead, got on a boat for Tarshish, about as far away from Ninevah and God’s Call as he could get. To make a long story short, God sent a mighty storm, and the men on the ship tossed Jonah overboard. If not for the grace of God, and the appetite of a huge, hungry fish, Jonah would have been a goner.
One of the things I learn from the story of Jonah is that God is passionate about his relationship with each of us, and that he will pursue us to the very ends of the Earth. Perhaps, God knew that the only way he could return Jonah to his good graces was to do the unthinkable act of commissioning a fish to gobble him up. While that may seem a bit extreme to some of us, I know there have been times in my life where God had to intervene in supernatural ways to restore me.
We’ll look more at the story of Jonah shortly. In the meantime, thank God for his unconditional love and his radical grace, and remember to be careful in the water!
Have you ever thought that what occurs is supposed to occur or it wouldn’t have occurred? Myself, I believe all that happens is supposed to happen because not only was it foreknown to happen but has also been allowed to happen! This is an example of providential care of the only omniscient God, and please also realize something I believe has additional instruction, that He has always known it—from eternity past.
Therefore for those who are reborn, all that occurs in their lives is orchestrated by God to “work together” for their “good.” That is not to say that all things are good, because the majority of this life holds that which is evil, but the evil (esp. in the believer’s life) is worked together with the good and always results in good—“to those who are the called according to His purpose.” The implication here is this, dear believer, that whatever we encounter, we can know that God has complete control of it and has already caused or meant it to, without fail, result to our benefit!
What does all this good God “works” to us address the most? Our faith, which ever continues to grow in strength, through understanding and knowing that, for those who are His, all is controlled to address our faith in Him and His Word; and it’s the condition of our faith in Him that determines the degree of our practical love for Him, because “faith performs by love” (Gal 5:6), thus the greater the faith, the greater the manifestation of love which supplies it.
This provides for the believer great encouraging assurance that we can welcome every day in knowing that whatever awaits us is not only foreseen and allowed, but also has already (“from everlasting to everlasting” – Psa 41:13; 90:2; 103:1; 106:4) been controlled to work for good to believers. There is nothing a believer will do that can turn aside the Father’s loving providence of causing all the evil to result—to us—for good (Gen 50:20).
Look at the cross,
Jesus took your entire burden,
His precious blood conquered all,
No one cared for your soul, His lover never fails.
Look beyond His death,
Victory belongs to the house of David,
What was fractured has been redeemed,
You’re free from bondage,
His blood did it at no cost,
Forever and ever you are soul is free,
His life did it all.
Beware of the snares, traps by the enemy,
Be watchful, God hates sin,
Be righteous O Ye’ man,
Walk in holy ways, pray and watch,
The enemy stares at you,
Christ died for you O Ye’ sinner.
Suffering is something we all experience at some point in our lives. We can suffer in many different ways. Our pain can be primarily physical, or we can suffer in mental and emotional ways. Suffering can be temporary but may still be very painful. We always feel very relieved when it comes to an end. Then, there's the severe, constant, unending suffering that goes on day after day, year after year. There may not be any hope that our circumstances will improve while on this earth.
At times like this we might ask, “Does God care that I'm suffering? Are all his decisions loving and fair? Is God in control? Can I trust Him?” If we believe the Bible which says that God is in control of all things, He is loving and wise, perfect and just, then the answer to these questions is a definite “Yes!” We may not understand why we're suffering, but we can trust God confident in knowing He will work all things out for our good.
We may wonder, “Is anything being accomplished by this suffering? Why is God allowing it to happen?” There is a purpose in suffering! Circumstances in our lives can be consequences of our sin and the poor choices we make. But, sometimes we suffer when we haven't done anything wrong. God wants us to use these adversities to refine, mature, complete and perfect us. If we're wise, we won't waste this opportunity. The Bible says when suffering comes, “count it all joy.” A lot can be accomplished if we choose to surrender to God's will for our lives.
We read in 2 Corinthians 12:9 that, God's “...grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ's power may rest on me.” We may be physically or emotionally weak, but God says we're strong because of His great power working in us.
In Hebrews 4:16, it says, “Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” God knows how much we suffer and cares deeply for us. He'll give us all we need to come through our trials victoriously. Revelation 21:4 says, God “... will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain.” It's exciting to know there will be no more pain or sadness in heaven. We will be free from all our suffering.
We read in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”
I know that in my suffering, it gives me great joy and hope to know that because my sins are forgiven not only will I see Jesus in heaven someday, but I have Him with me now to comfort, encourage and guide me.
We'll never know how much Jesus suffered for us, when He died on the cross, to take the punishment for our sins. His sacrifice provided the way for us to have eternal life if we believe He died and rose and trust Him to save us from our sins. It says in Romans 10:9-10 “If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Would you like to know your sins are forgiven and you're going to heaven? If so, you can say a prayer similar to this one:
Dear Jesus, I know I have sinned. I believe you died on the cross to pay for my sin and rose again. I turn away from my sin and trust you as my Savior. I am now a child of God and I will see you in heaven someday. Amen.
I was terrified, paralyzed by fear, unlike anything I've ever known! I stood motionless willing myself to take another breath. I tried to cry out but was unable to speak. Even if I'd been able to communicate, there was no one to talk to; I was alone. I'd been by myself many times in my life, but I'd never experienced anything like this until now. It was isolation so extreme I didn't know if I could survive it.
In the dim light around me, I could see that I was standing on the side of a lonely road, feeling vulnerable and fragile as I waited there wondering what was going to happen. Suddenly, a car drove slowly past me. I turned to look and was horrified to see my parents and older brother and sister inside. They were leaving without me! I tried to scream, “Wait for me! Don't leave me behind!” but I heard the words only in my head. The car faded from view, and I knew I'd never see my family again. I hung my head, and as I looked down, I noticed a puddle near my feet. Gazing into the water, I saw in my reflection that I was just a boy. The light dissipated; I was in total darkness now. It was an inky blackness so intense it felt like an evil presence. My mind filled with dread, and I started to panic when I imagined what it would be like to be trapped here. I'd only been in this place a short time, but I didn't feel like I could stand it any longer.
I drew my hand over my eyes, and when I pulled it away, I was surprised to find it wet with tears. I began to stir and then glanced around feeling disoriented. My heart was pounding as I relived the events that had just occurred. They still seemed so real, so vivid in my mind. I realized now this had all been a terrible nightmare. I sighed, so relieved to wake up and find that I was at home lying in my bed. But, what could have happened to cause this dark dream? Was it because of the movie I'd seen at my friend Kerry's church last night? The message presented in the film was that Jesus would return someday for those who believe in Him and trust Him as their Savior. Then, He'll take them to Heaven to live with Him forever. I remember thinking afterward this sounds like something you'd read in a science fiction novel. But, my mind kept coming back to one very important thought; what if it's true? What if Jesus is going to return? Will I be going to Heaven or discover one day that my family and some of my friends have vanished, and I'm left here without them?
I could remember how terrifying the nightmare had been; the darkness, agony, and desolation were overwhelming. “Was that a glimpse of hell?” I wondered, “I couldn't imagine being in a place like that forever. I'd experienced just a few moments of horror there, and I felt like I'd go crazy. But, if I'm not going to Heaven, then according to Kerry's Youth Pastor, I'll be going to that terrible place of punishment called hell. After the movie, he gave a talk on how you can be sure you're going to Heaven. I listened to what he had to say but didn't take it seriously at the time.
I wanted to talk to someone about all that had been going on, so I went to visit Kerry. I'd known her for many years and had recently met her family when I started going to their church. I drove to her family's home, and when Kerry answered the door, she invited me to stay for lunch. I agreed and followed her to the dining room where everyone was already seated at the table. As we began to eat, I found Kerry's eyes watching me. She leaned over and whispered, “What's wrong Will? You're never this quiet!” At first, I was reluctant to open up about my haunting dream, but once I started talking the words came rushing out. As I began to explain the nightmare, all the emotions I'd suffered during that time came flooding back. I felt like a frightened, young child desperately wanting the chance to see my family again.
When I stopped speaking, the room was eerily quiet. “What do you think of the dream?” I said, trying to illicit a response from the family. “Wow, that was creepy,” her younger brother replied. “That must’ve been terrible!” her mother exclaimed. “I’ve never been so afraid in all my life,” I softly responded, “I can't stop thinking about what would happen to me if Jesus were to return.” I shrugged then added, “But, why should I care about the future? I'm a young guy with a lot of years ahead of me!”
Then, with concern in her voice, Kerry said, “God is the only one who knows how much time we have left and when Jesus will return for His followers. In Matthew 24:42-44 Jesus said, “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” Jesus could return at any moment. Are you ready to go to Heaven, Will?” Everyone in the room grew silent. Suddenly, I didn't feel like I could sit there any longer and quickly got to my feet. I pushed back my chair and told them I needed to go for a walk. I hurried to the door and rushed outside wanting to be alone to think about what Kerry had said to me. In my dream was I seeing what it would be like to be in hell? I shuddered at the thought. Why would anyone want to be in a place of torment?
The Youth Leader had said we have a choice about where we'll spend eternity. We'll either be in Heaven or hell. “God doesn't want anyone to go to hell,” he'd said, “That's why He sent His precious Son to earth to die on the cross and raised Him from the dead to offer us eternal life. The Lord Jesus was taking the punishment for our sins on Himself as He hung there suffering for us. Romans 3:23 tells us, we've all sinned, and our sin separates us from a holy God. But if we put our faith in Him and turn from our sin we'll become a child of God, and can now go to Heaven when we die or when Jesus returns.”
“I definitely don't want to go to hell!” I thought. “But, if I want to go to Heaven I should trust in Jesus, ask Him to forgive my sins and give my life to Him.” Should I choose to take Jesus as my Lord and Savior or live life on my own terms not surrendering to anyone? I was wrestling with this decision. I had all the information I needed to make a choice but was still unsure of what I wanted to do.
The sky became dark and foreboding as I made my way back to the house. Lights started coming on in the neighborhood even though it was mid-afternoon. It was unusually quiet on the street, and I began to walk a little faster toward the house. I could feel a fear rising in me that I could not explain.
When I arrived at Kerry's house, I was about to walk up their sidewalk when the garage door suddenly opened, and I saw Kerry's Dad backing their car out of the driveway. As he slowly pulled out into the road, I could see Kerry and her family inside. I waved to them, but they didn't see me. They hadn't mentioned they were leaving, and I wondered if they'd come looking for me. As the car drove slowly down the street, I started running as fast as I could attempting to keep up with them. I was frantically waving my arms and shouting to try and get their attention, but I felt helpless to stop the accelerating vehicle.
Finally, Kerry looked out the back window and noticed me running behind them. She waved at me and our eyes locked for a moment. Then, suddenly everyone in the car was gone. The whole family instantly disappeared. I watched in disbelief as the speeding car left unattended continued on a short distance and crashed into a telephone pole on the side of the road. I rushed over to the crumpled vehicle and looked inside knowing what I'd find. There were no passengers. No one had escaped they'd just vanished! I stumbled in the grass and fell to my knees horrified at what I'd just witnessed. “Is this another dream?” I wondered. But, I knew with great certainty and deep regret that Jesus had just returned, and I'd been left behind!
1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 “For the Lord Himself will come down from Heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever.”