The Shortened Arm

In Isaiah 59:1, Scripture records these words, “Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short That it cannot save; Nor is His ear so dull That it cannot hear.” (NASB) Why, then, is God treated by so many people as well-meaning in His desire to save individuals but impotent to actually do so? Is God’s arm actually shorter than the prophet Isaiah thought it was? It irks me to no end to hear sloppy preaching that says, “God has done all He can do, now it is up to you to be saved. You must take that final step on your own.” As if God is helplessly standing by watching millions of people slide into outer darkness because they will not take that step and He cannot reach out to them. That is not what Isaiah 59 says! If you go on to read the chapter you see a picture of man’s descent into sin and his impotence to help himself. The verses talk about how we fell so far that we hope for salvation (11) but are unable to bring it about. Then, because we cannot save ourselves, God’s own arm (16) brought salvation.

Jesus was sent to save His people from their sins. His very name reflects this truth. All the Father gave Him, He redeemed. He did not and cannot fail to save those the Father has elected to be adopted into His family. As has been written many times before on this site, God is Sovereign over the affairs of men and Jesus is both willing and able to save those whom He chooses to save.

I also get tired of preachers spouting, “The Holy Spirit is a gentleman, He will never force you to do anything you do not want to do.” Really? Where do they find that in Scripture? Must be from one of those “lite” versions of the Bible. Mine describes Him as  a counselor, a rebuker, a teacher, a convicter, a judge, an exhorter, an enabler, a baptizer, and a consuming fire but nowhere in Scripture does it say that the Holy Spirit is a gentleman. Certainly Saul of Tarsus was rudely interrupted on his way to Damascus to merrily kill more Christians. Scripture records Ananias being told that Saul would be taught what things He would suffer for Jesus’ sake. Hardly a gentlemanly way of dealing with someone, and this after being blinded. The Holy Spirit is likened to a wind – it rushes, catches, carries and moves us. It caught up Phillip and deposited him miles away from the Ethiopian eunuch, it swept up Elijah and blew as tongues of fire at Pentecost. Yes, a gentle zephyr is wind also but God works in many ways. Sometimes He does deal gently with us but sometimes He moves violently, swiftly, surely. There are times when God does force people to do certain things. He gives commands – Repent or perish. That is hardly a gentlemanly statement. He whips merchants from the Temple and calls people names. God sends a storm to stop Jonah from going on his merry way and keeps Paul from entering Bithynia. God is sovereign over His creation.

Sovereignty is such a frightening concept to those under the illusion that they are in charge of their little piece of the universe. Instead of seeing sovereignty as a doctrine of complete comfort, allowing us to rest in the hands and plans of a good God who knows what is best for us at all times; instead of seeing sovereignty as God loving us so much He actively keeps us from destroying ourselves, those who undermine this great doctrine do so because of a false notion that they are in charge of their own life. If God is, as Scripture states, sovereign over the affairs of men, don’t you see that this includes their salvation?

I serve a God whose arm was long enough and strong enough to reach down and save me when I was yet unaware of my condition. It was He who awoke my spirit to life, He who gave me spiritual sight to behold His glory, He who gave me faith to believe the promises He told to me, He who granted to me grace, mercy and forgiveness and He who sealed my spirit with His forevermore. Praise be to the God with long arms — great things He has done!

Why Jonah Is Relevant To The Western Church

The book of Jonah has much to say to contemporary Christians. Those in the Western Church should particularly take the time to re-examine their own lives in light of the teachings found in this powerful story. Let me illustrate some of the lessons we can find in Jonah.

1) Jonah shows us our failure to share God’s concerns for the salvation of others.  Why else would the Western church spend so much time and money on itself and not on evangelizing those who have yet to hear the gospel? Why else would Christianity be shrinking in the Western world? We have failed to preach the good news of the kingdom – repentance of sin. Yes I believe that salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9) and that He has elected those He will save. I also believe He has elected us, His servants, to be the means by which that salvation is offered. Otherwise He would simply take us to heaven the moment we were born again. We are called to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth. Why has it taken 2,000 years and we still have thousands of unreached, unengaged people groups on our planet? The church needs to call a worldwide fast and solemn assembly for repenting to God of our blatant disregard of a simple command. As Jonah was unconcerned for the spiritual needs of the Ninevites, we are unconcerned with the spiritual needs of much of the world.

2) Jonah shows us our failure to value souls more than gourds. A mere pittance is spent by the church on missions compared with the latest gadgets, gizmos and large sanctuaries here at home. Instead of using those blessings to penetrate the darkness we have become enamored with our toys and value them more than souls. If it took all we had, if we had to bankrupt every church to see one soul come to salvation, it would be a bargain. A soul is of unbelievable worth – in fact, a human soul is worth the price of God’s Son dying to redeem it.

3) Jonah shows us our failure to let the love of God cast out our hatred of men. Just as Jonah believed the Ninevites deserved punishment (which, in fact, they did) we believe certain people are deserving of punishment. What we fail to realize is that all of have been given grace, shown unmerited mercy and favor with God who expects us to show that same kind of love and mercy to all people. This includes those trapped in Islam, spiritualism, Buddhism and all the other religious and political belief systems that exist. We cannot pick and choose who is deserving and yet we do — just crunch the number of missionaries to Sub-Saharan Africa versus the Middle East or those to South America versus SE Asia. We cannot play it safe and only concentrate on “safe” countries. God is no respecter of persons and neither should we be. Instead of that great Caribbean 10 day trip to play religious tourist, what about Bhutan or Japan where it takes actual courage to evangelize? Like Jonah faced going to Assyria?

4) Jonah shows us that our personal responsibility is to be involved in the saving of souls. If one gets nothing else out of the book of Jonah, this should slam you between the eyes. We are called by God to proclaim the good news to everyone. A Savior has come to the world. Forgiveness of sins is possible. A new life is being offered by God to all who will respond. And we are guaranteed by Scripture to see people from every tribe, tongue and nation accept this message. This is what gives us hope to go to Assyria and beyond, in the knowledge that God’s Word will not return void when it is sent out