We have been talking about our life guided by the Holy Spirit of God. We are reminded that when we accept Jesus as Lord and Savior, we receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God to guide us, comfort us, and correct us.
Last week, we read that Jesus’ apostle, John, shared the need for us to live our life in conformity with the will, the desire of the Holy Spirit. When we do so, then we are at peace in our hearts. When we do not follow the Holy Spirit, we have a disquieted spirit about us. In the briefest of terms, John was calling on the member so his community to obey the Holy Spirit of God.
Oh, how we have come to dislike that word, obey. I worked in a government program that preached “verbatim compliance” with its rules and regulations. At the same time, our leadership would only follow rules of outsiders imposed on them if they agreed with the rule. The program demanded obedience within but rejected obedience to others. That is a conflicted sort of obedience structure but not uncommon in the way of life in our culture.
A family father once noted he experienced a conflicted obedience structure in his own home. He said, “Father’s Day is only day of the year when I get complete obedience from every member of my family. I tell them not to spend a lot of money on me—and they don’t.”
We could, of course, speak almost endlessly about the downside of disobedience. Afterall, sin, at its heart, is all about disobeying the boundaries and values established by God because for one reason or for no reason, we do not agree with that boundary or the value placed by God.
But I think it might be more profitable if we spoke about the advantages of spiritual obedience. I would like us to explore spiritual obedience through the life and testimony of Jonah.
As we read earlier this morning, Jonah was a prophet from the Old Testament. Prophets were people selected by God to share God’s warnings and words in the present so that there could be a future. That was the role of a prophet.
We read selected passage from the Book of Jonah giving us a glimpse into the life of this prophet and giving us a window into the character of God. We read that, “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” (Jonah 1:1-3).
Jonah was spiritually attuned to God. Jonah could hear God speak to him and differentiate God’s voice from all others including Jonah’s own voice. And that voice from God told Jonah that Jonah must go to the city of Nineveh (modern day Iraq) and preach to the people that their wicked behaviors must end, or else God would judge them and cause them to stop. What exactly would God do is left unstated.
By outward appearances, Jonah gave the impression he was going to follow the spiritual obedience he had toward God. Jonah prepared for the journey. He went to the port of Joppa to board a ship that would be a necessary part of taking him closer to his destination, some 500 miles to the east. But instead of paying for passage for a ship heading east, Jonah paid for passage for a ship heading 2,500 miles to the west, to the city of Tarshish (modern day Spain).
Jonah had a total break in obedience with God. It seems that Jonah left behind his home, his life, and his calling from God and headed as far from his ancestral and spiritual roots as he could get. Sadly, this type of spiritual break continues to happen even to this day. People, unwilling to deal with the realities of their life, destroy the manifestation of life by moving as far away from family as possible, severing ties with their past, all in a hope of destroying the life they once lived. To make such a radical change happens when that person first makes a spiritual break with God. Jonah broke with God traveled westward in the hopes of escaping God and everything about his former life.
We know from the book of Jonah that God did not break with Jonah. Instead, God caused Jonah to be returned to Him and to his call. Jonah was tossed into the sea and rescued by a large fish. After three days in the belly of a large fish, Jonah was vomited onto the shore near the destination of Nineveh, “1 Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: 2 ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.’ 3 Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh” (Jonah 3:1-3).
Jonah who had made a spiritual break with God, submitted himself in spiritual obedience to God. Jonah accepted that God and not he was sovereign. It was God who placed the call on Jonah’s life. It was God who caused the storm to envelop Jonah’s ship as it headed westward. It was God who saved Jonah from the storm using a large fish. And it was God who caused that fish to go eastward toward Jonah’s destination.
Jonah understood he was a creature of God’s creation and in God’s creation. God was not a creature of Jonah’s creation. In that simple understanding to the relationship between God and humanity, we then come to understand that spiritual obedience to God instead of spiritual warfare with God is right and beneficial thing for us. The words from Jeremiah, then make complete sense, “‘11 For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11).
In spiritual obedience to God, Jonah preached God’s call for repentance to the Ninevites. “10 When God saw what they [the Ninevites] did and how they [the Ninevites] turned from their evil ways, he [God] relented and did not bring on them [the Ninevites] the destruction he [God] had threatened” (Jonah 3:10). God, using the instrument of Jonah, had turned people from their wickedness and gave them a future.
“1 But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he [Jonah] became angry. 2 He [Jonah] prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. 3 Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live’” (Jonah 4:1-3).
Jonah, even though he had been spiritually obedient toward God in one thing, preaching repentance to the Ninevites, still fought with God over the outcome. Jonah did not want God to be gracious, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love toward those who Jonah deemed unworthy. Jonah only wanted God to be so toward him and his people.
God and Jonah then entered a period of dialogue with God asking Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about my graciousness, compassion, forgiveness, and love toward others?” I want to conclude our discussion about the Old Testament story of Jonah on that question with a note that the key here is that in spiritual obedience we keep talking to God even when, or especially when, we are angry at God. The benefit of spiritual obedience is that God is never the one to break fellowship with us. If you are struggling with God, keep on talking through the struggle. Never quit and never forget that we are of and dependent upon God and not the other way around.
Now the story of Jonah and spiritual obedience came back in the New Testament through the life of Jesus. One day, Jesus was speaking to the religious leaders. Other people had begun to gather around Jesus and these leaders to listen in on their conversation. The religious leaders had declared Jesus was able to drive out evil spirits from a possessed person because Jesus was evil himself.
As Jesus challenged the thinking of the religious leaders, a woman in in the crowd called out, “‘Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.’ 28 He [Jesus] replied, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it’” (Luke 11:27b-28). Jesus was turning the conversation to spiritual obedience and that a blessed life was to be found in obedience to God.
Jesus continued, “29 ‘This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah’” (Luke 11:29). The story of Jonah was now back into the conversation. Jesus said, “30 For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man [Jesus] be to this generation. The sign here that Jesus was speaking about had nothing to do with Jonah being in the belly of the fish for three days and the eventual condition in which Jesus was in the tomb for three days. Jonah, as a sign to the Ninevites, was a call for the people to repent, to turn away from their ways and follow God’s way. As a prophet, Jonah spoke in the present so that the people could be assured of a future. Jesus was preaching to the people in the present so that they could be assured of the future. I am speaking in the present so that we (you and I) can be assured of a future. The sign, therefore, was and remains a call to repent, that is to turn toward God.
Jesus revealed this truth in verse 32. Jesus said, “32 The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they [the Ninevites] repented at the preaching of Jonah; and now something greater than Jonah is here” (Luke 11:32). The Ninevites repented because of one of God’s prophets, and yet the Jewish leaders would not repent even though the Son of God, Jesus, stood before them. Truly, Jesus said the men of Ninevites would judge the Jewish leaders and say, “What on earth were you thinking about?”
Jesus offered the Jewish leaders another example to entice them to spiritual obedience. Jesus said, “31 The Queen of the South (Queen Sheba) will rise at the judgment with the people of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom; and now something greater than Solomon is here.” The point here again was that Queen Sheba, though she was a Gentile [a non-Jew], traveled a long distance to hear Solomon, and the treasures she brought showed her respect for Solomon and the wisdom he possessed. In contrast, the Jews of Jesus’ time were unwilling to travel any distance to hear the King of kings, Jesus, say anything. The Queen of Sheba’s lavish respect for Solomon stood in stark contrast to Israel’s flat-out rejection of Christ.
Jesus’ point was that spiritual obedience carries with it a future. Spiritual obedience carries with it heavenly wisdom. Spiritual obedience carries with it evidence and the experience of God’s graciousness, compassion, forgiveness, and love.
Why on earth would we choose to reject spiritual obedience to God through Jesus Christ? The Jewish leaders rejected Jesus because they believed in themselves more than in all they saw Jesus do or say. The Jewish leaders, these learned and highly educated men, rejected Jesus because they thought he was in error. They thought Jesus was wrong.
And yet, as Jesus debated the Jewish leaders, another group of people, men and women, saw what Jesus did and what he said, and thought he was the truth. They though Jesus was not just right, but that Jesus was righteous, as one coming from God, that he was the truth. Jesus was free of error.
With this second group, Jesus formed a redemptive society. They were a small fellowship of people who built their lives on spiritual obedience into an intensive fellowship of affection, worship, and work. This second group of followers to Jesus were thrilled in seeing themselves as part of emerging movement with divine purpose.
This second group, with such people as Peter, Mary, James, Salome, John, and Martha engaged in spiritual obedience to God through Jesus. Doing so did not make them wealthy, or popular, or give them a simple life but doing so enriched their lives immeasurably with the presence of God. God working through this ragtag group of men and women turned the world upside down.
Jesus is still issuing a call to spiritual obedience. Just as we have read in the Scriptures today, as his call goes out there will be only two groups formed. One group will not be spiritually obedient and face judgment. The other group will be spiritually obedient and blessed with a future, wisdom, and God’s graciousness, compassion, forgiveness, and love. Which group shall we be found in? Let us pray.