Why would one ever flee from the presence of the Lord?
Away from hope and into despair?
Away from light and into darkness?
Why did Jonah?
And why do we?
We do it when our deepest desire is for something other than God.
What did Jonah want more than God? You don’t really discover the answer until the end of the book, but there was something that was more important to him than serving God, than loving God, than experiencing the presence of God. Did Jonah love God? I can imagine him preparing a defense, saying, “For twenty-five years I’ve gone to Temple…for twenty-five years I’ve kept the rules — for twenty-five years I’ve prophesied your Word…”
But did he love Him? C. S. Lewis used to say of his dog — “He doesn’t really obey me, but sometimes he agrees with me.” That’s how we can be. Obeying God when we agree with Him…but fleeing when He asks us to do something that goes against what we really want. Our real god, our idol, whatever that is.
It is so easy to think we are loving God because we are doing “the Christian things.” Have you ever fixed a meal for your husband or children — but it wasn’t done with love? Anyone looking at you might not know — but you would know…
One of the most penetrating conversations in Scripture occurred between Jesus and Peter after Peter’s betrayal, after the resurrection, when three times Jesus asked him:
DO YOU LOVE ME?
This always reminds me of the three times that Tevya, in Fiddler on the Roof, asked Golde:
DO YOU LOVE ME?
Please watch the first two minutes of this song. After two minutes the parallel stops — for when they then sing ” “It doesn’t change a thing, but after twenty-five years, it’s nice to know…” it doesn’t work. The truth is, if we really love Jesus and are not just serving Him to get something in return, then it changes EVERYTHING. Morality is serving to put God in your debt. Embracing the Gospel is to comprehend that He did it all, that there is nothing you can do to win His favor or put Him in your debt — in fact, you are completely in His debt. But the first two minutes work perfectly — so watch, for the picture will stay in your heart!
This week we are still laying the foundation for the book of Jonah — and I want you to go slowly, for the truths expressed are paradigm changers. Tim Keller explains that there are two ways to flee the presence of the Lord: one is by being very very bad (like the younger son in the story of the Prodigal sons) and the other is by being very very good (like the older son in that same story.) The “older brother” and Jonah felt God owed them something because they had served Him. Keller also explains, and I know this is true, that unless you explain that there are two ways to avoid God, that non-Christians will think you are inviting them into morality when you invite them into Christianity. Likewise, we ourselves can begin to think of the Christian life as obeying the rules instead of an intimate relationship in which we are experiencing the presence of God. When Jonah ran away from God it was not spatially (because you can’t — He’s everywhere) but relationally. He didn’t want to be intimate with God, to find His identity anymore as the servant of God — he wanted to be his own god. He didn’t like what God was asking and he was angry — like the older brother was angry. We all carry in our souls some of the older brother/Jonah syndrome.
After I spoke in Georgia last weekend, I took two extra days to be with my friend Sylvia who lives in NE Florida. Our mutual friend Ann joined us. I told them about my new insight into The Sermon on the Mount — and of how, Jesus is preaching about the older brother/Jonah syndrome, about how we find our identity in things other than God, about how we seem to love God, but really, love our own way. We may appear to be “good Christians,” but in reality, we are the house on the sand, the barren fruit tree…
At first they were skeptical, for they had never heard that — but then, as we sat down and looked at the four examples the sermon closes with, they saw it. As Sylvia and I were changing my bed before I flew out, smoothing the sheets for the next guest, she said, “Dee — why have we walked with the Lord all these years and never seen this [meaning heart idols — and how we find our identity in things other than Christ] before? Why have we not heard this before?”
I said, “I don’t know. But once you see it, you see it all over the Bible”
“It is!” She said adamently. “EVERYWHERE! That’s why I cannot understand why I was so blind. But seeing it has changed my life.” Then she paused and said, “Do you think this awakening, which is definitely spreading in the body of Christ, is leading to revival?”
“I’ve wondered… it certainly has done that in my heart.”
Seeing this changes so many things: our approach to evangelism, our own sense of being loved, our freedom, our desires — EVERYTHING. Our own Kim Taylor just wrote me the dearest note on how this has changed everything for her, and set her free. I’d like to quote one of her paragraphs:
How different I am than a year ago. My life is peaceful, no matter what storm comes my way. I feel full of Him and His love, no longer the elder brother looking down at others who are less righteous than me. I know my name is sealed on His great heart and so I no longer fear losing my salvation.
Go slowly. This is a life-changer. It may take some weeks for the penny to drop, but when it drops, you will never be the same.
For those who are new — I suggest doing certain things on certain days — but if you prefer to listen to the sermon first — do. His messages are so rich, you may want to listen more than once. I’ve listened to some of his messages ten times. My penny needs lots of jiggling to drop!
1. What comments do you have on the above and why?
2. Imagine you are married and asked your husband if he loved you, and he said, “I married you, didn’t I? I give you my paycheck, don’t I? I mow the lawn…” How would you feel about that response and why?
3. What do you think God longs to see in your heart — and why?
Monday – Wednesday: Bible Study
There are two ways to avoid God: by rebelling and being immoral, or by being very good and trusting in your own righteousness — so you think you don’t need a Savior. Probably the easiest place to see it, and for many of you this will be review, is in the parable of the two sons — so let’s look at that first, if only for review. Neither son, initially, truly loved the father. As Keller says, “They only wanted the father’s stuff.”
4. Read Luke 15:11-18
A. How did the younger brother show that he didn’t love the father?
B. What do you think was his heart idol — the thing that he loved more than his
C. How did he feel when he was away from the presence of the father? What does this illustrate?
5. Read Luke 15:25-30
A. How did the older brother show he didn’t love the father? Find evidences.
B. What do you think his heart idol was — what did he want more than the father?
C. Challenge question: What parallel do you see to Jonah?
D. How did the older brother feel “away from the presence of the Lord?”
Now — a less familiar and surprising place — The Sermon on the Mount. At the conclusion, Jesus keeps giving illustrations of “two ways.”
I want to anticipate a question: “Are you saying someone who has a heart idol is not saved?” I’m not. I’m saying he might not be saved, and think he is because he is “moral,” like the older brother or the Pharisee. But he might have a heart idol and be saved — for we all have them. The younger brother had one — but his struggle and his repentance showed he was like the good tree.
Keller said he once preached on this as the way of the godly and the way of the ungodly — which is correct, but later he saw that the ungodly did not represent the person who is like the younger son (being very bad) as he had thought, but rather the older son (being very good — self-righteously moral.) This is sobering. This sermon is, in part, to awaken those who think they know Christ, who say “Lord, Lord,” but in fact, do not love Him, do not trust Him. They love themselves and are trusting in their own righteousness.
We’re going to study this from the conclusion up — looking first at the summary, and then seeing if we can see the truth throughout The Sermon on the Mount.
6. Read Matthew 7:24-27
A. According to verses 24 and 26, the wise man and the foolish man have something in common. Find what
they have in common. How would they appear the same in a church service or Bible study?
B. Now look at those two verses and find what differentiates them.
C. Thinking of the older brother and of Jonah — and of heart idols and answer this. Why is it that we can
know what God asks, and yet still refuse to do it?
7. Read Matthew 7:21-23
A. How are these two groups the same?
B. How are they different?
8. Read Matthew 7:15-20
A. In what season might these two trees appear to be the same?
B. In what season would the difference be apparent? What is the lesson, according to verse 20?
9. Read Matthew 7:13-14
Two groups are on the path to destruction and one is not. Explain all three as succinctly and clearly as you
10 Share your contemplations on this study.
Thursday-Friday: Listen to this free Keller sermon given in London to pastors and share your notes.
Notes and Thoughts on Message
11. What’s your take-a-way and why?