1 PAUL TRIPP MINISTRIES, INC. Responding to the God of Grace September 30, 2007 Jonah 2 There s a painting by Johannes Vermeer, called, The Girl with the Pearl Earring. It's a very well-known painting; there has actually been a movie made about that painting; it s mysterious; people wonder why this servant girl is pictured with a gorgeous pearl that only a wealthy person could wear. There has been a lot of examination of that painting and the way that that girl s face is captured in gorgeous, gorgeous light, surrounded by these mysterious shades of darkness. And, as we now have the technology, that painting, as many other paintings, has been x- rayed. Vermeer did something that, when you look at the painting, you would never know he was very committed to under painting before he would do the final painting. And he under painted the painting most of the canvas with very dark hues of brown and black except for the one lighted sector where he knew her face would be and the sector where that pearl would be, he under painted with white. Now, the under painting of work, what it does is it sets the hues, the color values for the paint that will sit on top. Even opaque paint appears different given the under painting that is below it. And so, when you look at that painting, there is this gorgeous face in the darkness and the side of her face, just that beauty comes out of that darkness, and that pearl is remarkably there on that ear of that impoverished girl. Now, as much as the painting is beautiful, you really don't understand the beauty of that painting unless you understand the commitment that Vermeer had to the under painting that was below it that made the majesty of what you see on the surface. Well, that is much like the prayer that we re about to look at; it is well under painted. This is not a prayer of one layer. This is a prayer of several layers, and I want to take you on a tour of the layers of the painting that is here, of the prayer of Jonah so that you can get the depth and vitality of this prayer. Now, maybe the problem with this prayer is that the surface is so amazing. It's not just a prayer; it s not just a prayer prayed by a man in secret. This is a prayer shockingly prayed by a man who's praying somewhere under the sea in the belly of a fish. I would imagine that will never be a prayer experience that you will have. It s unlike anything you would ever notice. I was going to entitle this sermon, Meditation and Mucus, but I thought that was probably too explicit. You think, What was Jonah dealing with? I think things like, Was his skin wrinkled? I don't know why I'm thinking about that, but he had to be
2 floating in something; what was in there with him? Would I think to pray at that moment? It's incredible, and so with all of that bizarreness of this prayer, you don't want to miss what is actually going on here. And so, what I want to do is I want to look at the surface of this historical prayer, and then I want to take you to two layers of under painting under the prayer that really add to its depth and vitality and really bring light to the color hues that you have on the surface. You ll never understand this prayer; you ll never understand what happens in this prayer until you first understand that the grace of God has already begun to operate in this man's life before he has sense enough to pray because he would be in no place to pray if it weren't for the amazing grace of God. And even though Jonah turned more than once from the Lord, the Lord would not turn from Jonah. And so, here is this man in this bizarre place, but he is in this bizarre place because he s loved by a God of grace. And this God of grace is intent on turning this stubborn man. And if you work your way through the prayer, you can actually watch the heart of Jonah throughout the words of his prayer progressively turn. Turning is not all at once, but by the end of the prayer, you see a man of a very different heart. Notice, if you would, at the beginning prayer: Then Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from the belly of the fish, saying, I called out to the Lord, out of my distress, and he answered me. Now, I don t know if you ve thought about what it says there. I called out to the Lord out of my distress. It's a bit euphemistic. It is not as if somehow, some way, mysteriously, trouble fell on this man. Praise God! He is gracious enough to tolerate our euphemisms. You have prayed euphemistically; you have prayed after a week of rebellion, Lord, it was a tough week. What a euphemism! You have prayed: I'm struggling! which reads, I'm doubting your existence. Praise God that He hears euphemistic prayers out of my distress. What happened when he knew this distress was a direct result of not only Jonah running from God and getting into trouble, but further troubling his own trouble in refusing to turn in moments of opportunity. And then, you see a bit of progress in Jonah's spiritual consciousness. He then says, For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me. Jonah is beginning to say, This was not just some kind of generalistic distress of life in a fallen world, God, you were involved with this. And maybe Jonah is moving a little bit closer to acknowledging his guilt. God, this distress was brought on me by You! And, isn t it an amazing thing to think about the fact that God, in his love, will distress us? And then as that distress does its work, the same God will relieve us because He s not mean and capricious; His desire is not that we would needlessly suffer, but He is intent
3 on redemption, and He will bring trouble in our lives in order to create the turning that is His will. And you see that here. This is not just generalistic distress. This is the uncomfortable grace of a redeeming God that has brought trouble into this running man's life, but it's good trouble. It s the trouble of a God of love; it s a trouble of a God of redemption. And, Jonah is beginning to hone in on what really is going on here. He is beginning to get a right mind about him. This man has been out of his mind! Now, think about what he was trying to do. He was actually trying to run from the presence of God. How delusional is that? Now he is beginning, he can see rightmindedness return to him as he prays. He goes on, then he said, I'm driven away from your sight; yet I shall look again upon your holy temple. What interesting words! This is a man who was beginning to think about the presence of God, the presence of God that resided in that temple, the Shekinah glory of the Lord. This is a man who is beginning to turn toward the presence of God. This man was the man who tried everything he could do! (To do what?) to get out of the presence of God. You could see his heart beginning to turn as he begins a think of God and His presence. Interesting thought for a man who would run and ended up in the belly of a fish. And then he says, The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; the weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. What a picture of Jonah's deep sea adventure, bottom of the ocean, weeds wrapped around his head. It's the end! I can t help but think of Paul's testimony in II Corinthians 1, he says, We were far beyond our ability to endure in our hearts; we felt the sense that this had to be it. It's a picture of how we get ourselves away from God, and we get ourselves in such deep difficulty that we are utterly unable to help ourselves. We get to places where there literally is no hope for us but the rescue of God. What a picture there is as Jonah makes that confession. I went down to a land whose bars closed upon me forever. And then there's that wonderful word yet : You brought up my life from the pit, O Lord my God. Then, he says this: When my life was fainting away, what a sweet moment, I remembered the Lord. I remembered the Lord. I remembered the Lord. I remembered the Lord. It seems to me as you read this prayer at this moment you ought to begin to hear the tympani rumble; you ought to begin to hear that sense of crescendo. This is a man whose heart is now running after the Lord. When I'm away for a long time on a speaking tour and Luella is not with me, the last several days, my heart begins to turn toward Luella. I find myself talking about her a lot. I find myself thinking about her a lot, and that heart turning to Luella is about wanting to see her, wanting to be with her, remembering how blessed I am to have her in my life.
4 And, that's what's happening here; Jonah is beginning to remember his God; he s beginning to remember he's a prophet of God; he s beginning to remember the love of God; he s beginning to remember what is the essence and source of his hope and life. This man is beginning to get his heart back. He s beginning to get his mind back; that s the operation of the grace of God. God makes us rational again. He makes us love again. He makes us see again; He makes us feel again; He makes us want again; he makes us desire again. His grace makes us alive again. And you see the sense coming back into this cold man. You want to weep; you want to cheer; you want to applaud because you can see this man being raised up to what God, God alone, can make him to be. Oh, we re not done; the tympani is still rolling; we haven't reached the full crescendo yet. Jonah says, Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. Perhaps Jonah is thinking of that moment on the boat where the tempest was raging, where God s anger of grace was coming down on that sea because of the rebellion of Jonah. And remember, all the mariners ran to their idols to pray, and it did absolutely nothing; it was an act of utter futility. And Jonah begins to say, There is no place to run; there's no place to seek help; there is no place to go; there's only one place where life and hope and grace can be found; it s in the Lord. And all those things that you thought supported you, all those things that you thought you could trust, all those things that you thought would prop you up in these moments of distress have nothing to offer you. They have eyes that don't see and ears that don't hear, mouths that can't speak. There is a heart that is turning from rebellion, turning to worship God, and then with even greater crescendo, But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you. Whenever a person in the Old Testament talked about sacrifice, it was an acknowledgment of this one thing-sin guilt and the need for forgiveness. Jonah has come home; Jonah has come home, and he s no longer saying, It's just some kind of distress that fell on me, and thankfully you ve rescued me. He s saying, God, it was me; I looked you in the face, and I said, No! I will not do your will; I will not go your way. I want my way, and I will flee from your presence if it s the last thing I do. And, God, I get before you, and I say, The greatest trouble of my life is not the general trouble from a fallen world; the greatest trouble in my life is my sin. The greatest problem I ll ever face is the problem inside of me, and I acknowledge that, and I come with a thankful heart to offer thanksgiving to You because I knowledge I am my greatest problem. What an amazing turning. You can see the progress of that turning course its way through the words of this prayer. Such is the operation of the grace of God; the change that God works in all of us is more often a process than it is an event. And you see that process of turning as is chronicled by Jonah in this wonderful prayer.
5 Well, that s the surface of the painting, but there's yet a deeper layer. You cannot read this prayer of Jonah without beginning to think that this prayer doesn't just picture the experience of Jonah, it really is a portrait of the life of every human being, and these words of drowning and the deep and tempest are used in Scripture to picture the state of every sinner. We re all like Jonah; we all seek to run from God's presence. Maybe we don't do that in location; maybe it s just a moment where I act like God doesn't exist, or maybe it's a moment where I want to be more independent than God would ever want me to be, or maybe it's a moment where I'm more self-righteous than I should ever be, and I don't recognize that all of my righteousness is the gift of Christ. And in those moments, I m actually running from the plan, the purpose, the presence of God. Maybe I have a plan for my life, and what really directs my life is more my plan than the plan of God. You see, there's not a person who's ever existed that, in some way, doesn't rebel against the God of grace, doesn't run from His presence, isn t in dire, dire need and in difficulty. There are none of us who are free from the need of the glorious rescue of God's grace. This prayer also pictures the vanity of our idolatry because we, too, forget the Creator, and we seek to find meaning and purpose and hope and life somewhere in the creation. We try to deify the creation while we forget the Creator; we try to turn things in our lives into our own personal messiahs. And so, we live for power. We live for possessions. We live for human acceptance; we live for success. We live for control; we live for the possession of material things; we ll even use moments of ministry to gain prominence and place and power in the eyes of others. And distress will always reveal the impotence of your idol to actually give you life, to give you help, to give you hope, because in those moments of distress, your idol has nothing! I love what it says in Jeremiah 10; it's one of those sarcastic passages of Scripture. Yes, there is sarcasm in the Bible. The idols that people worship are called by Jeremiah, scarecrows in a cucumber patch ; it's a bit of a put down, in case you didn t notice that. Jeremiah says, You dress them up; you paint them with gold, but they re still something you made with your own hands. And then he says, 0h, by the way, you have to nail them to a platform lest they fall over. And then he says, Who is like our God, the Almighty one, the holy one, the creator of the heavens and the earth? What a contrast! I would ask you this evening, could there be a scarecrow in a melon patch that you're holding onto? Could there be a scarecrow in the melon patch that you're seeking to get life from? Could there be something that you've built with your own hands that now has replaced the God who made you? Could your job maybe have a place that was never meant to have? Could a relationship have a place that was never meant to have? Could position maybe have a place that was never meant to have? Could your dream for your
6 house and your family have a place that was never meant to have? Could a desire for a good thing, could it be that desire for a good thing has become a bad thing because that desire has become a ruling thing? And could it be that this prayer is given by God in this evening to you to remind you once again that that thing has no power to give life? And then, who, here, doesn't need to confess sin? How many of you have lived a sinless week? Some of you are smiling. How about yesterday? How about this morning? Who, here, would be comfortable with us playing the video of your last week for congregational exegesis? Wow! Oh, that we would be a humble people. I know my own heart, brothers and sisters, and I will confess to you, I struggle with selfrighteousness. I struggle with thinking, I m one of the good guys! I'm even in ministry; I begin to think that I'm okay. I begin to think that perhaps I've escaped a dire need for the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Oh, may God help me; may God forgive me. You see, the moment you're able to convince yourself that you re righteous, you quit seeking the grace for sinners. How much do you wake up every morning and embrace your need of God's grace? How much do you cry out for His help? How much do you pray that God would protect you from you? God, help us to celebrate grace because we humbly admit that we re sinners. Well, that's a second layer, but there's one more layer to this wonderful prayer. It is very, very clear that this wonderful prayer finally pictures the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to read for you from Matthew 12 and verse 40: For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. There came a greater Jonah, and this Jonah found Himself in dire distress, not because He was a rebel, but because He was obedient. And this One was distressed by the plan and purpose of God. Peter makes that very clear in his first sermon in Acts that it wasn't just the work of evil men, it was the foreordained plan of God that led the Lord Jesus to the cross. He was distressed because of the redemptive plan of God, but He was not distressed because He was a sinful, rebellious man, He was distressed because He was a spotless Lamb willing to take on the sin of humanity so that redemption would be a reality, and He was separated from His Father. I don't know if you've ever thought about the magnitude of what that means. It seems impossible to me; I ve thought about this many times; I don't know if my brain is big enough to grasp this, but there was a moment in time where the Trinity was rent asunder, where the Father actually turned His back on the Son. And, Jesus, in the face of that, does what only is right to do; He commits Himself to His Heavenly Father.
7 He places Himself in this moment of terrible suffering and separation, into the hands of His Father, and He goes down into the earth. This second Jonah didn't just face death, He died. And He was vindicated by His Father, rose again, now the conqueror of sin and death. That dark moment of disaster was a glorious moment of grace. You see, the prayer of Jonah is a prayer of one man; the prayer of Jonah is a picture of the need of every man; the prayer of Jonah is a portrait of the grace of One Man who is our life, our hope, our redemption. Is your heart turning to Him? Is He actually your functional, motivational, rubber-meets-the-road hope? Does He motivate the choices you make? Does He motivate the words that you say? Does He motivate the things that you do? Does He get you up in the morning and put you to bed at night? You see, you are a worshiper. Worship is not first an activity. Worship is first an identity. Worship is inescapable. There's something that rules your heart, and Jonah leaves us in this place. There's only two ways to live. I'm wrapping my hands around vain idols that can't actually give me life. Sadly, I ve called a scarecrow in a cucumber patch, my lord. Or, rather than wrapping my hands around a vain idol, I ve placed my hands in the God of glorious grace. Where are you? Where are you? Where are you? Let s pray: Lord, thank you for capturing this surrealistic moment of prayer in the life of this prophet. Thank you for the way that that pictures all of us and the depth of our need for You. Thank you for the way that it is a portrait of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, the one place where hope can be found. We would confess with the words of John Calvin that our hearts are idol factories; we are capable of turning everything in creation into an object of our worship, and in so doing, forgetting You, and in so doing, placing ourselves in dire danger. Oh, Lord, as we prayed in the beginning of this service, won't You, in Your grace, in a new way, turn our hearts to You more deeply, more fully, more comprehensively, more joyfully. May our hearts turn to You, and may that shape the way that we live. May our lives not be structured just by a theology or an ideology, but by a deep sense of need for, and a deep affection towards You. We pray these things in Your sweet, strong name. In Jesus Name, Amen Paul Tripp Ministries