Jesus and the Sign of Jonah: Easter Thoughts

One day when a group of scoffers called out for Jesus to perform some sign for them, he called them a wicked and adulterous bunch and told them the only sign they would get would be the sign of the prophet Jonah.
“Just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so I, the Son of Man, will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Mat. 12:39-40)

Here are some more similarities as well as some contrasts:

  1. Both Jesus and Jonah died, were buried, out of sight, away from God, after their death and before their resurrection. Jesus’ body in a grave, in the heart of the earth. Jonah’s body in a fish’s belly, in the heart of the sea.
  2. Both traveled down. Jesus from heaven to earth, to a grave, into the realm of the dead. Jonah down to Joppa, down into a ship, down into the hold, into the sea, to the bottom of the sea.
  3. The deaths of both provoked natural phenomena. At Jesus’ death the sun darkened and there was an earthquake. At Jonah’s death the storm stopped instantly and there was a great calm.
  4. The deaths of both provoked exclamations about the natural phenomena from bystanders. At Jesus death the centurion said, This was the Son of God. The sailors who threw Jonah overboard said, This was a prophet.
  5. Both were resurrected after three days. Jesus came out of the grave on Easter Sunday. Jonah was vomited onto the shore by the whale and was given new life.
  6. Both clearly knew the will of God. Jesus obeyed, only spoke and acted in accordance to God’s will. He went to Jerusalem to certain death. Jonah disobeyed, ran into the opposite direction and out of God’s will.
  7. Both were prophets and spoke God’s message. Jesus was eager to speak, throughout his life and to his disciples after his death and resurrection. Jonah was reluctant and only spoke God’s message after his resurrection.
  8. Both prayed. Jesus prayed throughout his life, for his followers and for the nation, in full submission to God. Jonah only prayed after his resurrection, for his own comfort and was angry at God.
  9. Both were executed. Jesus’ executioners didn’t understand what God was doing. They eagerly killed him without delay. Jonah’s executioners saw God at work. They killed Jonah reluctantly putting it off as long as possible, asking God’s forgiveness.
  10. Both were obedient. Jesus all his life long, even unto death. Jonah only after his resurrection.
  11. In both cases sleepers were awakened and scolded for not praying. Jesus’ companions slept and he awakened and scolded them for not watching in prayer with him. Jonah himself slept and the sailors awakened and scolded him for not praying for salvation.
  12. Both offered themselves to die in order to save others. Jesus was lifted up on a cross to die slowly and in agony and public shame over many hours. Jonah was drowned, a quick easy and private death.
  13. Both were resurrected. Jesus sent his disciples to preach to the world at enmity with God but loved by Him. Jonah was sent to preach to Nineveh, the enemy of God’s people, but loved by God.
  14. Both preached a message of warning. Jesus gladly preached out of love, did not want anyone to perish but all to repent. Jonah preached reluctantly, not wanting them to repent, but to perish.
  15. Both died and after three days were returned to life. Jonah was resurrected with the same body he had before, one that would die again of old age. Jesus was resurrected with a new, ever-living body.

This Holy Week, as we think about these similarities and contrasts between Jesus and Jonah, may we realize that by his Spirit, the resurrected Jesus in living his life through us. We are more than followers of Jesus; we have within us the capacity to be replicas of Jesus.

Just as he lived his life loving people and doing good, so we too can live lives loving people and doing good to those around us.

The Time to Speak

A professor from a German university visited the Canela village briefly when Jo and I worked there as linguists, teachers and Bible translators. He studied the Canela belief system and, once, when we had coffee together, he mentioned the Canelas’ fear of ghosts and evil spirits. My response startled him.

“But there are no ghosts or spirits!” he said. I chuckled and said, “Remember, you are talking with a Bible translator, one who believes in God who is a Spirit.” He looked at me as if he had never seen me before.

“Jack,” he said, “You are the first educated person I have ever met who believes in God.” I was not surprised since I knew that secular humanism was the credo of many European countries, even back then, forty years ago.

Canada is rapidly catching up. People are capable of morality and self-fulfillment without belief in God. This is the core of secular humanism, and it this religion is spreading rapidly throughout North America. Lawmakers operate within this framework and courts decide cases that result in anti-Christian actions.

A Recent Example
In the summer of 2018, Trinity Western University Law school was denied accreditation because the university requires students to adhere to biblical standards.
The LGBTQ lobby took TWU to court because students on applying had to sign a document stating that they would abstain from any sexual immorality. The court found in favour of the LGBTQ lobby stating that TWU standards do not match the court’s definition of diversity.
In other words, any view is acceptable, except the biblical Christian view.

Humanists Forget History
The history of higher education in the western world, however, shows that Christians were at the forefront of meeting human needs, be it hospitals, orphanages or schools. Many post-secondary educational institutions were founded by Christians to prepare clergy and teachers, even as far back as 1663, with the founding of Universite Laval in Quebec.

An Honest Atheist
It’s almost impossible to read a news report or view a newscast without some reference to human rights. Often the view is that secular humanists are upholding human rights whereas Christians deny people their rights. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Chris Berg is an outspoken atheist, and he is honest when he writes, “Virtually all the secular ideas that non-believers value have Christian origins. It was theologians and religiously minded philosophers that developed concepts of individual human rights. The same with progress, reason, and equality before the law. It is fantasy to suggest that these values emerged out of thin air once people started questioning God.”

God Made Human Beings in His Image
For thousands of years, Christians have believed and taught that people are not just higher animals; we are images of God Himself. The people we live with and among, the people we talk to and talk about, all are made in the image of God. Therefore, every human being has intrinsic value, and is worthy of respect.

God Wrote the Operating Manual
The Judeo-Christian Ten Commandments prohibit actions against people that would counter their God-given rights:

  • Murder: the right to life
  • Sexual immorality: the exclusive right to their own spouse
  • Lying: the right to truth, to trust and be trusted
    Overwork: the right to a day of rest from work
  • Stealing: the right to own property
  • There is even a command against merely wanting what other people have.
  • The rest of the Ten Commandments focus on the human right to relate to God and with God in the way that He wants people to relate.

The concepts Western cultures value came from God through His Word and His people, yet secular humanists deny God exists and disparage His people. They talk about freedom, but ignore the fact that our Canadian society is free because it was built on the values taught in the Bible.

By actively seeking to silence God’s voice and the voice of Christians, they are destroying the very foundation of freedom that made this country great. Christian voices are being silenced today in education, law, politics, and even sports.

What Can Christians Do?
“When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? Ps.11:3 The Psalmist goes on to say that “God is on His heavenly throne. He examines the righteous.” What does God see? Silent Christians? Believers afraid to speak for fear of what might happen to them? Surely not! God has given every Christian a voice. Surely today is a time to speak! Our words, written or spoken, are read or heard by others, and when they contain biblical truth, they influence other people. Christians must speak up, defend the laws that uphold Christian values and speak against those laws that deny and destroy these principles.

Now is the Time
Someday Canadian Christians will no longer be allowed to speak, in our blogs, our books, our magazine articles, on social media, or even in our churches.

Countries that developed without the influence of Christians have already silenced believers.

God is looking at us today. May He see believers who write, teach, speak, preach, protest, and proclaim His truth to an antagonistic world.

The Good Old Days

I handed my cheque to the hardware store clerk. He wrote out a receipt and taped it to the stock of the 12-gauge, pump action shotgun I had just bought. As I walked out of the store, gun in hand, the thought popped into my teenage mind. I hope I have enough in my bank account to cover that cheque.

No problem, my bank was just across the street, so I crossed Gaetz Avenue, walked into the bank, and shotgun in the crook of my arm, waited in line behind the other customers. When it was my turn, I stepped up to the teller’s window, laid the shotgun on the counter, pulled my passbook from my pocket, and asked the clerk to update it. He did so, and I noted happily that there was enough to cover the cheque. Picking up my shotgun, I ambled out of the bank and walked for half an hour through town to my home on Michener hill.

It was the mid-1950’s and no one raised an eyebrow in Red Deer, Alberta. Rifles and shotguns were a common sight. Most farm pickup trucks had gun racks across the back window holding a shotgun or a rifle, or both.

Those were the “good old days.” No mass shootings in schools or churches. No elbows or cell phones at the table. No oranges or bananas except at Christmas time. No pineapples except in pieces in a tin can. No pizza, pasta, kebabs, or chicken fingers. All drinking water came out of a tap, not from bottles. Prunes were for medicinal use only. Sugar was used everywhere, as was lard for baking and cooking. Muesli was plentiful, it was called cattle feed.

Seat belts were installed only in airplanes. Nearly every man and many women smoked cigarettes constantly. At recess, every Monday morning, us high school guys would tell funny stories of our dads, uncles or neighbours driving drunk over the weekend. Comics on the Saturday night radio shows always had some drunk-driving jokes.

A visit to the principal’s office to “get the strap” was a serious matter for troublemakers like those who chewed gum in class. That heavy leather strap caused a good deal of pain on the open hand. The “Three R’s” song about “Reading and ‘Riting and ‘Rithmatic, taught to the tune of a hickory stick,” was all too true. That hickory stick was not just for pointing out things on a map!

In the 1950s, and before, evangelical Christians in Western Canada did not smoke, drink alcohol, enter beer parlours, attend dances, play billiards, or go to movies. Hollywood was typified as Sin City where actors were forced to passionately kiss persons they were not married to. And it was general knowledge that any young woman wanting to succeed as a movie actress would need to “give herself” to the men who could advance her career.

A good deal has changed since those “good old days”. What was “par for the course” back then gradually became no longer acceptable.

Fortunately, police cannot retroactively ticket every 1950s driver who was not wearing a seat belt. People suffering heart attacks do not sue their mothers for using lard to make those fabulous pie crusts. Red Deer police will not be charged with negligence for letting a teenager walk into a bank carrying a shotgun.

Cultures tend to change from one decade to the next. In the late 1960’s seatbelt use became law. In the 1980s Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) changed the culture about driving drunk from a joke to a criminal offense. In the 1990s laws were passed to keep all firearms out of sight and locked securely when not in use. Smoking is generally seen as an unhealthy habit and non-smokers feel sorry for those still addicted to tobacco.

Lately we have noticed some changes even in the entertainment and business communities. Now movie actresses and women in business, insist they should not need to “give themselves” to the men who have the power to advance their careers.
There are not yet any laws against this practice, but it does seem as if a little bit of Christian morality is finally seeping into the entertainment and business culture.

As a Christian I’m happy to see this.

Why Do We Listen to Others?

We all know the admonition, “Everyone should be quick to listen.” (James 1:19 NIV) But we need more than just this bald statement. Here’s why:

Three Self-Centred Reasons for Listening.

1. Listening to Top the Speaker’s Story.
As a teenager I worked in a pick-and-shovel crew with three older men who were recent immigrants from several countries in Eastern Europe. We often shared experiences and I noticed that every time one of us was talking the rest all listened intently.

But when the speaker stopped talking, one or the other two would say, “In my country this happened to me and . . .” He would then tell of his own experience which was more dangerous, more thrilling, or ended in worse trouble than the story of the previous speaker.

The other two appeared to be listening carefully: they were not. They were focused on their story they were about to tell to top the current speaker’s story. Each speaker acted as if his status in the group depended on his story’s Wow factor.

2. Listening for a Break and Jump in with an Off-Topic Story.
I was greeting people in the church vestibule after I had preached on the need for God’s people to get personally involved in some form of ministry outreach. Three couples were grouped around me.

“We have been financial partners of a missionary family in Africa” one woman said, and her husband mentioned they had spent a month’s vacation on the field, to help build a medical clinic, living and eating together with the African staff. The other two couples were listening intently. I was hoping to hear similar ministry-experience stories from them.

The moment the story teller paused for a breath, the wife of one of the other couples jumped in with a vacation-in-Mexico story and how Mexican food had made her sick. It totally derailed the personal-ministry-in-missions conversation and deteriorated into sharing bad foreign food experiences. She had been listening closely but only to jump in quickly at the first break and speak herself, even though it was off-topic.

3. Listening to get Ammunition Against the Opinion of the Speaker
We have all witnessed people talking with each other about debatable subjects such as sports teams, politics, religion, or economics. The listener is intent on what the speaker is saying, but only so that he can use something the speaker said as a weapon against him. All the listeners want to do is pounce on something the speaker is saying and use it to win the argument.

One Biblical, Other-Centred Reason for Listening
The apostle Paul expands on what James wrote about being quick to listen and slow to speak.
“Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing.” (Philippians 2:3-4 TLB)

The motivation for listening biblically is to focus on the person speaking, to meet their needs—to understand the other person; to learn what they value, what they think or feel about a situation, event or person.

We listen biblically when we want to meet a need in the other person—to mourn with those who mourn; to rejoice with those who rejoice; to encourage the downcast; to build up the ones we listen to.

Biblical listening is other-centred listening—the kind of listeners we all like to have when we speak—the kind of listeners we need to be when others speak.

 

How Churches Miss Out on One-Third of Their Mandate

The pastor’s response to my tears astonished me. It happened forty years ago, but I remember it vividly.

How A Pastor Stunned Me Into Silence
I was on a flight from Brazil’s capital Brasilia to Belem at the mouth of the Amazon; my seatmate was an elderly pastor. I had just spent a week in emergency mission board meetings. Strong leftist anti-religious actions by the Brazilian government had forced all our colleagues working in the villages as teachers and Bible translators to leave the villages and return to the city. My wife and I were also forced out, even though the people we worked with protested, saying they had invited us and wanted us to stay.

As I told the pastor about the desperate situation—scores of indigenous people groups left without teachers, without medical help and without anyone to tell them about Jesus—I started to sob and could not continue. He looked at me and quoted Lamentations 3:27, “It is good for a man to bear the yoke when he is young.” Then he turned to his book and continued reading. I could not believe his response!

I sat stunned, I wanted to say, “It’s not about me! It’s about 100,000 indigenous people, living in Brazil’s jungles, in fear of evil spirits, without the Word of God in their language, and no way of being born again to live under the protection of God’s Holy Spirit.”

Pastors Who Over-Focus on Their Congregation
Then it came to me. As a shepherd pastor, he saw me as a hurting sheep, a frustrated young man feeling sorry for himself. As a pastor, his daily concern was for his flock, for his congregation, even for a young man on a plane. He meant well, wanting to remind me it is good for hard things to come into our lives when we are still young.

He was focused so strongly on his pastoral function; he had lost sight of a lost world. He didn’t realize I wept for Brazil’s hopelessly lost indigenous populations. He had forgotten that Jesus, his Shepherd model, had said, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also,” John 10:16 (NIV).

A decade later, I visited with an old friend from Bible School days. We both had 25 years of ministry behind us, he as a pastor, I as a missionary. We chatted about the difference between us. When we parted, my Bible School pastor friend said, “Jack, we folk serving in ministries at home simply do not have the same fire in the belly for missions as you missionaries do. If we did, we would be out on the field too.”

Up-Reach, In-Reach, and Out-Reach
It is true that God calls and equips different people for different ministries. And yet, it is also true that Jesus gave the Great Commission, “Go into the whole world and communicate the Good News to every person,” to the whole Church. He was not talking only to those individuals called to specialize in cross-cultural missions.

The Whole Church must be involved in going to the Whole World, through supporting and encouraging the workers on foreign fields with understanding prayer, and regular financial support, and encouraging notes, etc.

Tens of thousands of churches across Canada and the United States are staffed with people called by God to serve in church positions. It seems that many of these servants of God are so strongly committed to the Up-reach of worship and the In-reach of meeting needs in the congregation, they have neglected the Out-reach of cross-cultural missions, confining that aspect mostly to local evangelism.

Is God saying, “Oh well, two out of three isn’t bad?” I don’t think so!

When missionary colleagues tell me that many church leaders display little vision, and even less passion, for cross-cultural missions, I remember my seatmate on that long-ago plane flight.

Some Do It Right
Some churches, however, are led by pastors who are concerned about Out-Reach.

  • They practice and preach Jesus’ Great Commission.
  • They lead mission trips and visit the mission field to rekindle their passion.
  • Cross-cultural missions are part of their church’s strategic plan.
  • They welcome missionaries who are good communicators and encourage them to tell challenging and faith-building stories to their congregation.
  • Some pastors are so on fire for missions I’m astonished they aren’t on the field.

In these cases God is answering the fervent prayers of missionaries around the world.

Just a Little Bit Pregnant?

Currently I’m writing the God-stories of my life to publish in several books. Researching my diaries some time ago, I read how concerned Jo and I were for the Canelas during the first year we were back in Canada. Here is the story from nearly thirty years ago.

The Story
We had planned for a missionary family to live in our village house and continue to teach reading and present Bible studies. But they encountered many delays. Instead of a missionary, a well-funded community developer from Germany arrived with medical personnel, teachers, and other workers. The leader kept ridiculing the Canela believers. “Why are you reading that book?” he would ask whenever he saw a Canela reading his Bible. “That’s not for you people.” The Canelas wrote us these bits of disconcerting news in sporadic notes we received from the village.

A Reassuring Visit
We prayed much for them and God gave us His peace, but we kept longing to see them again. We returned to Brazil eighteen months after we had left to renew our permanent residency visas. During the few days we were in the village many Canelas came to tell us how they loved reading the newly translated Bible—great evidence of God’s work among them.

“I just love reading God’s Word.”
“I read it every day.”
“I read it through once right from the beginning to the end, then I read it through again, and now I am reading it for the third time.”
“People in my house are always asking me to read it to them.”
“When I read, I understand.”
“I pray the songs of King David every morning.”

The Note That Made Us Cry
The day we left, a young woman handed me a note as I pushed through the crowd with a bag to load into the jeep. I glanced at it then gave it to Jo in the back of the house, saying, “This is from Jirot”, and walked out with another bag. When I came back into the house Jo was crying. “Read this” she sobbed, holding out the note. I read it, sat down with Jo and cried too.

Here is the note translated from Canela:
Hello Prejaka and Tehtikwyj, (our Canela names)
Listen to my short thought. You are now going back to your children, Pjekar, Tehtyc and Kwyrxomkwyj. (our daughters) May the Creator of this earth, who also is our Creator, take care of all of us. We Canelas are always together with each other. And we, including you, will surely someday be together with each other again. To that end I surely pray for you like this:
“Good Father, look after all of us here. And my relatives, Prejaka and Tehtikwyj, who are the ones who revealed You to me, look after them, and also look after me.”
Yes, that is the way I pray. Done.
Jirot

We had received many hundreds of notes ever since the Canelas learned to read and write in their own language. But this one was special since it not only contained a prayer, it had the words “who are the ones who revealed You to me” showing deep spiritual understanding. And it was the only note we ever got that didn’t end by asking us for something.

That note was a tiny evidence of a growing Church—almost insignificant. But a woman who is just a tiny bit pregnant will surely give birth to a baby in due time. In the same way the Canela church is alive and growing, nothing tiny or insignificant about it.

Whose Church is it Anyway?

The New Canela Children’s Bible

Jo and I need not have been so concerned during those eighteen months. We should have remembered that Jesus said “I will build my Church.” Not “Jack and Jo,” or “a strong denomination.” He, Himself, will build His own Church, among the Canela, and every other people group that is reading and hearing His Word in their own language. Yes!

Now nearly thirty years later, Jesus’ Church among the Canela is thriving. Instead of an atheist German development team leader, a godly German missionary family has been there for well over a decade, What a contrast! A whole new generation of Canelas has grown up gladly reading God’s Word.