Today we continue our series on The Nature Of God and we look at the subject of Authority and our readings are Jonah 1 and Matthew 22:34-40. Today we also celebrate the Queen's Official Birthday, which, since 1974, been marked on the Saturday in the range 11 – 17 June and remembered on the following Sunday. To mark the Queen's 90th birthday, the Bible Society has joined forces with HOPE and the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC) to publish a book about the Queen’s Christian faith, The Servant Queen and the King She Serves. You can order your free copy here, but we are giving away one copy to each family at this morning's service. I don't want to spoil the book for you, but here is a summary of what you will discover as you read it:
Our Queen bends the knee to our King
Our Queen submits to our King
Our Queen recognises the authority of our King
To whom do you bend the knee? To whom do you submit? Who is the ultimate authority in your life?
The people of God hopefully give the same answer to all three of those questions, namely: God, who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
But we people of God don't always recognise the authority of God, we don't always submit to Him, we don't always bend the knee to Him. Whenever we sin, we only commit the sin because we refuse to recognise and submit to the authority of God in that particular area. It is impossible to submit to the authority of God and sin at the same time. So we walk on very delicate ground here and I suggest that Jonah and our Queen can be our teachers this morning, but my final word will go to Jesus, to whom all authority on earth and in heaven have been given.
The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’
Our God is a God who speaks to the people of God ... through His Spirit, through prayer, through His word ... through others. He always has ... and He always will.The word of the Lord came to Jonah and the word of the Lord comes to you and to me.
Do we listen? Did Jonah listen? Don't answer to quickly, you might be wrong.
But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish. He went down to Joppa, where he found a ship bound for that port. After paying the fare, he went aboard and sailed for Tarshish to flee from the Lord.
So did Jonah listen? ... Yes! He listened very carefully; he listened to exactly where God wanted Him to go ... and then carefully chose to go in the opposite direction.
He listened ... he did not obey!
That of course is what we call sin.
The only reason you and I sin when tempted is because even though we have listened to the word of God, we choose to disobey it and we head in the opposite direction until we repent, which I've taught you already comes from the Greek word metanoia
which at its root means "to change direction."
We don't all obey the call of God, do we? Our Queen heard the call of God to the throne of the United Kingdom on February 6, 1952, and was crowned on June 2, 1953, not a reluctant queen, but a willing servant queen, which has not always been the case with our monarchs, has it.
Then the Lord sent a great wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose that the ship threatened to break up. All the sailors were afraid and each cried out to his own god. And they threw the cargo into the sea to lighten the ship. But Jonah had gone below deck, where he lay down and fell into a deep sleep.
Now, whether or not God has sent all the storms that have buffeted this island kingdom since our queen was born, I don't want to go into. What I do know, and what we celebrate about her life, is that she has not slept through the storms.
Definitely not a sleeping servant, this queen of ours; and a work ethic that's an example to us all.
Back to Jonah:
The captain went to him and said, ‘How can you sleep? Get up and call on your god! Maybe he will take notice of us so that we will not perish.’7 Then the sailors said to each other, ‘Come, let us cast lots to find out who is responsible for this calamity.’ They cast lots and the lot fell on Jonah. 8 So they asked him, ‘Tell us, who is responsible for making all this trouble for us? What kind of work do you do? Where do you come from? What is your country? From what people are you?’
9 He answered, ‘I am a Hebrew and I worship the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.’
We begin to see a better side of Jonah now ... which is always the case when we witness to the Lord, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land.
Our queen has unashamedly testified to our Lord Jesus Christ: "Christians have the compelling example of Jesus Christ and for myself , I would like nothing more than that my grandchildren should hold dear his ideals" (1978); "Christmas marks the birth of the Prince of Peace" (1984); "For me, the life of Jesus Christ is an inspiration and an anchor in my life" (2014).
May she inspire us to talk about our Lord and Saviour, to witness to His saving grace.
This terrified them and they asked, ‘What have you done?’ (They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so.) The sea was getting rougher and rougher. So they asked him, ‘What should we do to you to make the sea calm down for us?’
‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea,’ he replied, ‘and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.’
Here we see the best side of Jonah: honesty and self-sacrifice.
These two words of course are synonymous with our queen. Her life has not been her own since ascending the throne, has it. In this she emulates our Lord Jesus Christ who came not to be served ... but to serve. Her self-sacrificing service should be our self-sacrificing service ... throwing ourselves into the sea if it will bring calm to someone else, remembering that 'whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Then they cried out to the Lord, ‘Please, Lord, do not let us die for taking this man’s life. Do not hold us accountable for killing an innocent man, for you, Lord, have done as you pleased.’ Then they took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.
Jonah's self-sacrifice and three days in the fish has hints of Christ's self-sacrifice and three days in the tomb. In fact when people asked Jesus for a sign he said to them none will be given it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. And what is that sign? .... God will raise up who He will raise up ... Jonah's disobedient witness nonetheless causes them to greatly fear the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him.
On our Queen's birthday, may we, disobedient as we are, greatly fear the Lord, for that is the beginning of all wisdom; may we offer a sacrifice to the Lord ... and the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart because of our ongoing disobedience is the starting place, followed by offering ourselves, as our queen has, as living sacrifices, serving the King she serves; and then let us make vows, or renew our vows, to Him.
Our Gospel reading contains the making of an honourable vow, promise, commitment:
Jesus replied: ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind ... and ... Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Let us breathe an earnest prayer to God, perhaps for the first time, perhaps for the manyeth time. Let us pray: "God be merciful to me a sinner. Like Jonah, I listen but I don't always obey. Lord, I need to be saved. Save me. I call upon your name. I need to be saved and set free from those sins I keep on going back to: As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly Lord, I am guilty. I deserve your rejection. Lord, I cannot save myself … I throw myself completely upon you and into you, O Lord. I trust the blood and righteousness of Jesus; I trust your mercy, and your love, and your power, as they are revealed in Him. I take hold of this word of yours, that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Lord, save me, for Jesus' sake. Amen."