Introduction Michael Ngubane
We thank the Lord for granting us life to see this day. There is so much for which we can thank the Lord. To get up daily and go about our chores is God’s grace. Wherever God’s children meet, we pray that God will be there and that they will receive spiritual food for the week ahead.
We are approaching Easter when we will commemorate the death of our Lord. Last Easter we were unable to meet and this year it will probably be the same due to the COVID pandemic.
There are many reasons to thank the Lord for the great things He has done at KwaSizabantu. Words fail us to thank God and give Him the thanks He deserves. In some areas they have experienced good rains- even in areas where there has been drought.
Our college was known as CCE and it operated under the auspices of NWU. We thank the Lord that we have finally received the green light to operate independently. The Department of Higher Education and Training has granted Cedar International Academy NPC provisional accreditation as a private higher educational institution. The B. Ed in Foundation Phase teaching in now accredited by SAQA. Cedar can advertise and recruit students for this qualification, as well as provide this training internationally. For more information visit: www.cedar.ac.za.
The mayor of Umnzinyathi, Mr Petros Ngubane, has even given Reverend Stegen a name: ‘The Perseverer’ – he perseveres no matter what the situation. We thank Reverend Stegen that he shows the way no matter what the situation is like.
We are grateful on behalf of the college – they have worked hard and persevered. The Lord has answered our prayers. God is a God of order and He has His ordained times. At the moment in South Africa there is a lot of turmoil amongst young people who would like to further their education but are unable to secure an institution of learning. God has opened this door. I would recommend Cedar to any parent who has a desire that their child should receive a good education, both academically and spiritually.
We invite you to attend the online Easter conference. I have heard that some Christian organisations aim to organise marches to force the government to lift some of the restrictions regarding large groups. I understand that sentiment, but we must also understand that God is in control of all things. He has kept us and enabled us to hear His word in the past and He will also enable us to do it this time. There is a longing to meet with the brethren, have fellowship and see loved ones face-to-face, however, the Lord can use this time to change the negative into positive. This time can be one where we examine whether our faith is as strong at home as when we meet.
In God’s word we read about a time when there will be a famine of God’s word and young people will stagger about, seeking God’s word but not finding it. Although we are restricted, we are still able to read God’s word and learn from it. The question is: are you still standing firm on the foundation of faith and the gospel that you received, or have you lost it during this time of restrictions?
Today’s text is taken from the book of Jonah. The heading of this portion is Jonah flees from the face of God.
Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil[a] has come up before me.” 3 But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the Lord.
4 But the Lord hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” 9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” 10 Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, “What is this that you have done!” For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them. Jonah 1:1 – 4; 8 – 10
When you read this text, it draws you to find out what happened next. It brings suspense. When you begin reading, it is difficult to put it down. The story is written in a logical sequence. This text is so rich that many messages could be developed from it. Today, however, I would like to focus on Jonah’s disobedience. Other topics could have been: Jonah’s unfaithfulness; the storm as a result of Jonah’s disobedience; the suffering brought about by Jonah’s disobedience. We see the plan of God in this text and how God relentlessly pursues the sinner.
God called Jonah. He had a purpose for Jonah. There was something God wanted him to do. When God saw the need in the world at that time, He looked for somebody and sent Jonah to those people. God did not hide from Jonah what He expected Jonah to do. He said, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil[a] has come up before me.”
Jonah’s response was not open and straightforward. He did not say, “Oh God, I cannot get myself to do this, I am not prepared to.” Put yourself in the shoes of Jonah and examine your response as someone who is called. People may misunderstand and think that only those who stand in the pulpit and preach are called. But each child of God has a calling on his/her life – the calling to forsake the life you led while still an unbeliever. Every day we need to fulfil God’s calling on our lives. God called Jonah and sent Him to rescue the Ninevites, but instead of Jonah being obedient and doing what God called him to do, he fled from the Lord’s presence. Satan is so crafty because he even assists a person who is running away from God. As Jonah flees from the presence of the Lord, doors seem automatically to open for him. Wherever he went, things fell into place, everything was ready. He wanted to go to Tarshish so when he arrived at Joppa, a ship was ready to sail. Jonah had the correct fare. The doors seemed to open. Satan was ready to deceive him into thinking he had made the right decision. Satan often arrives in a time of difficulty and opens an easy way out of a difficulty, which seems the right way. When Jonah got there, he must have been happy to see that there was a ship about to leave, he had the money, he could pay it and he said, “I have been successful in fleeing from the presence of the Lord.” Very often when people flee from the presence of the Lord, they find that Satan has laid the table. He welcomes them with open arms as if he were expecting them.
For example: a girl in the church falls pregnant out of wedlock and is placed under church discipline but instead of her humbling herself and repenting she runs away. She finds everything prepared for her. People welcome her and she feels vindicated. This continues for a short while, but then she is dropped and crushed. Jonah thought that the way out of his predicament was to flee from the presence of God. He did not realise that he was jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Child of God, we have been sent. Are you where you ought to be? Are you where God has sent you? You may be at the place you have been sent to, but are you doing that for which you have been sent? Due to the difficult circumstances, do you look for an easy way out, a shortcut so that you can do it the way you want instead of doing it in the way God wants you to? It is easy today to criticise Jonah and say, “Jonah, how could you even think of fleeing God’s presence? You should have known better.” Yet you are doing the same thing.
Innocent people who had nothing to do with Jonah’s calling, suffered. They were in danger of death because of his disobedience. Is it not the same in our lives, that due to our disobedience people around us suffer?
Allow me to use this illustration: You might be teaching at a school because you are qualified. God, however, did not call you for that. You are simply doing what is logical. You are qualified, the doors open to you to teach but God did not call you to do that. You work everything out logically. You decide that you will be an example to the learners and bring the Gospel to them, but you are doing it for money, position and fame. In the meantime, you cause turmoil because of your disobedience.
God may have called you to work on the lands, till the soil under the hot sun, but you prefer to work in an air-conditioned office and people must suffer because of your disobedience.
Jonah was sent to Nineveh but why did he not want to go? He might have viewed the people as terrible sinners who did not deserve the grace of God. He might have regarded the place as beneath him. He wanted a higher calling. You may feel that God’s calling for you may not be fitting, it is unsuitable for you. God wants this for you and others must suffer because you do not see it in God’s light. A person may feel called to KSB mission to further the Gospel and work for the Lord under Reverend Stegen. After two or three years, other children of God suffer because you have been unfaithful in your calling. The congregations to which these people go are in upheaval and there is turmoil. Why? Those people fled from the presence of the Lord and followed the pots dripping with fat and oil. A person may arrive at KSB and piously say that he has been called to KSB to serve, but after a short while when his calling is tested, you realise that he just followed - thinking he would get a good living, but because he does not receive as much as he thought, his calling dries up. These are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
People are rebellious against authority – why? From far, the grass looked greener on the other side of the fence and when they reach there, things are not as they thought, and they become rebellious. It is not God who called them, they look at the income and imagine that they will drive a big car but when it does not materialise, they become disappointed. People may be called, not by God, but by their expectations and what their eyes see – a large auditorium and they imagine how amazing it would be to stand and preach to a larger audience. They arrive there but God’s people end up suffering because of their unfaithfulness.
Firstly, are we in the place to which God has called us? Secondly, are we doing that for which God has called us? Why do you find people forsaking the church and their calling? They were never called by God. They followed others who were called, but they never were. If the person whom they were following veers off in his own direction, they also do. They do not follow God; they follow a person and how they will suffer because of that person!
People justify themselves by saying, “Now that I have left, I am free!” Free to do what? Free to sin? Free to wear pants whereas you used to dress respectfully? Do you think it is something worthy to be set free to wear pants? You do it because you have always wanted to do it. You may have been respected and honoured as a wife because of the way you submitted to and respected your husband. Now, however, you have gone your own way, down to Joppa, and you sit on your husband’s head, you wear pants just like him. Is that the right place? No, return to the place God has for you. When people reach Joppa, not even Tarshish yet, they say they are free, they are out of the presence of God and they can wear what they like. Is that the kind of freedom for which Jesus set you free? Is that what happens when the Bible says, when the Son of God sets you free you shall be free indeed?
God has called you to live a holy and pure life - a life that is free from sin, free from immorality. Then you reach a marriageable age. You decide that you want to get married in your way. You flee from the presence of God because of marriage. You perhaps do reach Tarshish and people around you must suffer because of your disobedience and unfaithfulness. Are we at the place to which God has called us, doing that which God has called us to do? If we are busy with God’s calling on our lives, we will have peace within and there will be peace around us. In that ship with that storm raging around them and the waves crashing on the boat, the sailors came to Jonah because they feared for their lives. 8 Then they said to him, “Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?” Jonah may have been dressed like a wealthy person or as a dignitary but when the storm arose, the sailors asked, “Who are you really?”
You may go into the world, change your hairstyle and apply make-up as the world does. You do not do it exactly like the world but eventually they will approach you and ask, “Who are you exactly?” When they begin suffering because of you, they will want to find out more about your background and where you come from? You thought you would be free in fleeing from God’s presence but even those, who in the beginning welcomed you, start looking at you differently. You are no longer as welcome as you were initially. You may lift your hands and praise and worship the Lord as if in a trance, but people will want to hear who you really are. With this storm raging, the turmoil and confusion, we initially thought we had someone in our midst who was called by God but tell us who you really are.
When all goes well and it is smooth sailing, you can deceive people. When the storm arises, you can no longer hide. When Jonah first arrived at Joppa, he may have been given the front seat and treated with respect but that was because they did not know who he was. Jonah thought that all was going well and that he had successfully fled from God’s presence, not realising that God’s presence is everywhere.
When you get out and are free from the presence of the Lord, people welcome you – come and be our bishop – but wait a moment, in the end your feathers will be plucked. You arrive as a preacher, the anointed of the Lord who brings the word of the Lord, but they do not realise that you are fleeing the presence of God, running from God’s calling for you and following your own insight.
When they asked Jonah, he could not hide the truth: 9 And he said to them, “I am a Hebrew, and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.” Jonah gave more information than they asked for. “I fear the Lord, the God of heaven.” They did not ask him whether he feared the Lord, but he supplied the information. On the ocean, he realised that God is not just the God of heaven, but also the God who made the sea and the dry land.
Girls, you can run away from the church, from the discipline of your parents and go your own way. You can be welcomed by the girls in the world, but you do not realise that a storm will come your way which will reveal who you really are. You leave the church and the Gospel, saying it is wasting my time and restricting me too much, I cannot live the way I want to, but the time will come when the storm will threaten and you will be asked who are you and where do you come from?
Some go their own way saying that God has changed His mind and given them another calling. Oh, the tears and regret that follow when they end in the storm and realise that they were disobedient.
When you were still in the Gospel and faithful to your calling, you were respected by your wife, she honoured you. Once you go into the world, your wife does not know whether you are a facecloth or a floor cloth. You have become something one uses to wipe with. Your children used to respect you, but now you drink with them. They do not care who you are, and they no longer respect you. Your children sin in front of you. You still have the title of a child of God, but the reality is quite different. When you went down to Joppa, a crowd followed you. You were their hero, they looked up to you. Do they still look up to you? When you boarded the ship, the people said that the anointed of the Lord was with them and that they were so privileged. Are the people still happy about you now? They really honoured you, they praised you saying that you were such a wonderful man who stood for the right thing but when the storms arise and the waves crash, are you still honoured? You know very well that you were not supposed to go to Tarshish, but to Nineveh. You board that ship and when the land disappears you are so happy, you made it and it is plain sailing. You do not realise that the God you have forsaken is still there and He will meet with you there and He will be on the other side when you reach the shore.
Today we have looked at one aspect of Jonah’s life, however, the mercy and grace of God followed him. He wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh because He wanted to show them mercy.
May God grant that we will learn from Jonah’s example and experience and ask ourselves whether we are obedient and faithful to God’s calling in our lives.
Conclusion Albu van Eeden
Due to Jonah’s disobedience, the trip, his life, the purpose of his life and everything became a tragedy. He was sent to a heathen nation, Nineveh, with a message of hope to people who were caught up in idol worship and oppression from demonic forces. In his message there was hope: repent before God in dust and ashes and He can set you free and give you a new life.
What was Jonah’s message to the heathen people on the ship? Did he give them a message of hope? Did he show them that there was a solution to their problems? Did he tell them how to repent and meet with the living God? No. He told them that the solution to their problems was to commit suicide. The solution to the storm we are experiencing is to commit suicide. This is the solution to the storms of life that we will face. Consider the eternal guilt on the shoulders of a man who did that.
Fortunately, Jonah did not die. God may have given him time to repent and ask for forgiveness. Had he died he would have been guilty of the souls of the tens of thousands of people in the city of Nineveh and the souls of the sailors because his message was ‘kill yourself when things are hopeless, that is the only way, that is the only solution to your problems.’ This is how disobedience to God ended. Instead of being a light with a message of hope, forgiveness of sins and freedom from sins, we have a message of hopelessness.
Jonah knew the living God. He knew everything about the God of Israel. The storm proved that this was Jonah’s God. Jonah’s god wanted a sacrifice which is ‘kill yourself to appease God’. This sacrifice was not strange in heathen cultures. Jonah gave the sailors a crooked message from the pit of hell – the solution to your problems is to commit suicide.
The price for disobedience to God cannot be calculated. The number of souls that God has brought across your path to help, is incalculable. You can never calculate the damage and harm you cause to others. This concept is common in the modern Western world. The country that did the breaking work for this was Holland. Now in South Africa there is a case in court to legalise this in the country. In Switzerland, there is a company that allows you to die in a room while gazing at the Swiss Alps. A doctor will inject you to kill you. – the doctor will come to you and give you an injection to kill you. Why have Christian countries ended in such a dilemma? They were disobedient to the command that the living God gave them.
Friends, cry out to God for mercy. If you have turned off to Joppa, cry out to God because you will have the blood of many, many people on your hands one day. You will not just do bad things to yourself, but you sow seeds of hopelessness in the hearts of the people with whom you work.
What did the angel say when the Lord Jesus was born? ‘Good news to all mankind.’ The Gospel of Christ is a message of good news: The Lamb of God was slain for our sins; we can receive forgiveness for our sins. May God be merciful to us.