One of the stories in the Bible that has always been very intriguing to me is the story of the prophet Jonah. And, in the last few years, the Lord has been having me embark on a long-lasting study of grace. The latest book by Tullian Tchividjian, `Surprised by Grace: God's Relentless Pursuit of Rebels' uses Jonah as an example of God's amazing grace.
Here is the synopsis of the book from the dust sleeve cover:
Many of us think we know God's heart better than we do. We think we have a good handle on what should and should not be acceptable to God. But God has never conformed to our faulty assumptions about his character. Indeed, his compassion and pardon are utterly shocking in their lavish abundance - a lesson learned the hard way by one man who kept resisting God's grace in whatever way he could.
The man's name isn't new. It's Jonah, the famous Old Testament prophet. We find his story compelling because all of us hesitate to follow God from time to time; Jonah's story has been our own. However, Tullian Tchividjian shows that the emphasis of our story is not on our disobedience, but on God's persistent grace.
This powerful journey through unforgettable events and imagery reveals how God relentlessly pursues rebels, a category that ultimately includes everyone, though he has every right and plenty of reasons to give up on us all.
Encounter the story of Jonah in a gripping presentation that will open your eyes wider than ever to God's relentless, purposeful, and inexhaustible grace.
And here is the biography of the author:
Tullian Tchividjian (MDiv, Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando) is pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church ([...]) in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Tullian ([...]) is a dynamic communicator who is well-known for his ability to passionately present God's deep, unchanging truth to our changing world in a fresh and compelling way. He is a contributing editor of Leadership Journal ([...]) and the author of Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different and Do I Know God? Finding Uncertainty in Life's Most Important Relationships. His sermons are broadcast daily on the radio program Godward Living ([...] An avid surfer, he and his wife Kim are the proud parents of Gabe, Nate, and Genna.
He also happens to be the grandson of Billy and Ruth Graham.
Pastor Tullian reviews the book of Jonah, verse by verse. He compares Jonah's story with that of Jesus. Here he states his case:
For good reason, Christian people love the word gospel. Tragically, however, multitudes of Christians fail to grasp what the gospel fully is. In fact, I'm convinced there's just as much confusion inside the church as there is outside it regarding the gospel's true meaning - sometimes even in churches where the gospel is regularly preached and taught.
To get a better grip on the gospel, maybe what we need most is to be startled...surprised...even shocked by it.
That's exactly what I believe our situation calls for. And one of the best books in the Bible for delivering such a jolt has to be Jonah - a story full of "shocking surprises and sensational elements," as one commentary puts it.
And now, already, you're surprised. You're astonished that any author would offer a book-length look at Jonah for a popular audience. But for me, it was through probing the story of Jonah that I came face-to-face with one of the most life-changing truths in my experience. I came to grips with the fact that the gospel is not just for non-Christians but also for Christian. (p. 15)
Pastor Tchividjian explains why he thinks the two stories are similar:
...Jonah is a storied presentation of the gospel, a story of sin and grace, of desperation and deliverance. It reveals the fact that while you and I are great sinners, God is a great Savior, and that while our sin reaches far, his grace reaches farther. This story shows that God is in the business of relentlessly pursuing rebels like us and that he comes after us not to angrily strip away our freedom but to affectionately strip away our slavery so we might become truly free. (pp. 18-19)
When taking a look at the possible reason why Jonah ran in the other direction when God called him to ministry in Nineveh, Pastor Tullian ([...]) makes this assertion:
Do you know what would happen if every human being concluded that God's way was the right way and God's call the right call? Every human problem would come to an end. The root of every human problem is our desire to be our own god and to carry out justice in the way we ourselves are sure is best.
In all of human history, there has been only One who concluded - at every point, and in every way - that God's way is always best and God's call is always right. Because of him, every human problem will someday come to an end. In the meantime, we'll never see the end of our own misery if we do not recognize Jesus, this one who so perfectly submitted to God's way and God's call. (pp. 33-34)
Jesus is indeed the only Way - and the only solution to human problems!
Tullian makes the important point - which many don't consider - that Jesus is in the Bible throughout, not just in the New Testament:
...We make a huge mistake if we think we don't really come across Jesus in the Bible until we reach the New Testament and the Gospels. We encounter him in Genesis 1, when God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit come together for the purpose of creating everything out of nothing. Then we see Jesus again in Genesis 3, when God promises that a seed from the woman will crush the serpent's head. All the rest of the Old Testament - including the book of Jonah - continues to build on that promise. (p. 34)
In reviewing Jonah verse by verse, the author shows that God often handles our rebellion this way:
When we run from God, his response is more likely to be stormy and upsetting than quiet and subtle. He knows how to make us miserable. And it makes those around us miserable as well:
Then the mariners were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. (Jonah 1:5) (p. 41)
That is a pretty good incentive to not run away from God.
I was intrigued by this perspective about what happens to us with regard to how close to or far away we are from God:
We see that those who flee from God become increasingly thin and insubstantial and see-through, while those who pursue him become progressively more real and intense and solid. Those running from God become less human the farther they run; those running toward him become more human the closer they get. The more human we are, the more we become what God wants us to become, and the better it is for those around us. The less human we are, the worse it is for those around us. (p. 43)
I had never thought of it that way, but the truth of that statement is apparent when you look at those who are obedient to God's direction versus those who aren't.
Throughout the book, Tullian reviews different depictions of Jonah by artists in different media through history (reprints of the artwork is included in the book as well). The one that most touched me was `Jonah' by David Sharir. Tullian describes it this way:
Many artists in recent times have continued turning to Jonah as a favorite biblical subject. One of the most memorable portraits of the prophet is by the Israeli artist David Sharir done in 1971. In the upper right corner is a simple, stylized cargo ship, its hold filled with wares. On deck stands the solitary figure of Jonah, carrying luggage in each hand. His wide eyes look forward. What destiny awaits him? He looks unsure.
Behind and below him, a bordered box across the bottom of the artwork encloses an ancient city packed tightly with building, roofs, archways. The city looks sizable and cosmopolitan. Is this the seaport Joppa from which Jonah departs? Or rather, could it represent Nineveh - from which the prophet wants to be as far away as possible? Meanwhile, between Jonah's boat in the upper corner and the crowded city down below, the biggest part of the painting is taken up with the blue immensity of the sea, as if it's waiting to play a much bigger part in Jonah's story. (p. 37)
One of the lessons we learn from the book of Jonah is that God's mercy is massive:
The supreme example of this massive mercy is Jesus. The incarnation of Christ tells us most emphatically how God spares nothing in going after those who run away. God's becoming man is anything but a quiet and subtle response from God to our running from him. It's a huge and loud statement. It shows to us that God confronts human flight in the most outspoken, powerful way. (p. 52)
I really was comforted by this observation:
Submitting self to God is the only real freedom- because the deepest slavery is self-dependence, self-reliance. When you live your life believing that everything (family, finances, relationships, career) depend primarily on you, you're enslaved to your strengths and weaknesses. You're trying to be your own savior. Freedom comes when we start trusting in God's abilities and wisdom instead of our own. Real life begins when we transfer our trust from our own efforts to the efforts of Christ. (p. 53)
That concept, in my opinion, is one of the hardest for those of us in the USA to grasp. We are taught from birth - or so it seems - that everything depends on our efforts. What a relief to accept that that is not the case!
Tullian shares with us this truth:
...I've recognized this: the gospel shows us how to find two things in Christ that most of us long for more than anything else - acceptance and affection. I've discovered that God, in Jesus, has richly provided me with these two things - both of which I was created for, wired for, and designed to experience. They are, in fact, two fundamental marks of what it means to be human. (p. 157)
I was greatly encouraged by this book. I have always been intrigued by the story of Jonah, and how his story is a foreshadowing of the resurrection of Jesus. It was interesting for Pastor Tullian to bring in information from other theologians, authors, etc... - Charles Spurgeon, C.S. Lewis, Francis Thompson (author of the poem `The Hound of Heaven' ([...] John Piper, etc..., as well as provide his commentary for each verse of Jonah. I appreciate what I learned from this very valuable book, and am happy to see that the legacy of Billy Graham continues in this wonderful man.
Provided by Crossway ([...]) for review and giveaway purposes.
Reviewed by Andrea Schultz - Ponderings by Andrea - [...]