The Book of James Introduction

February 12, 2013

Study-Book of James-Frame

Jesus’ prayer to the Father: Sanctify them by Your truth. Your Word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. John 17:17 & 18

Who Wrote the Book of James?

While James did not specifically identify himself, as to which “James” he was (James 1:1), the author is widely thought to be James, the half-brother of Jesus; and was not the disciple, James the brother of John and the son of Zebedee. He was also known as James, the Just; and James, the Righteous. Both words, “just” and “righteous”, refer to his honesty, piety and strict ascetic practices. He was not a follower of Jesus during the Savior’s time on earth (Mark 3:21–35; John 7:5), but eventually became an apostle in the vein of Paul, as one who had seen and believed the Lord post-resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:7; Galatians 1:19). This is the James who had a major role in the leadership of the early Church in Jerusalem.

New Testament’s Book of Proverbs

The book of James is similar to the Old Testament book of Proverbs, dressed up in New Testament language. Its consistent focus on practical action in the life of faith is reminiscent of the Wisdom Literature in the Old Testament, encouraging God’s people to act like God’s people. The pages of James are filled with direct commands to pursue a life of holiness. He makes no excuses for those who do not measure up. In the mind of this early church leader, Christians show their faith by walking in certain ways, and not others. For James, a faith that does not produce real life change is a faith that is worthless (James 2:17).

The Book of James is directed to Jewish Christians scattered among all the nations (James 1:1).

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The Book of Jonah Final

February 6, 2013

Book of Jonah

Now the word of the LORD came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and cry out against it; for their wickedness has come up before Me. Jonah 1:1 & 2

Jonah is a True Story

From the world’s point of view, Jonah and this big fish have become a part of literature, a part of mythical legendary history. Though the story has become a by-word among people, the book is looked upon with ridicule and disbelief, and is laughed out of the Bible as being a kind of fable. It is not taken seriously, it is not taken historically. It is merely to them, a great fish story.

Yet, no matter what people think about this book, we have learned that Jonah was actually a real person, and he is mentioned in other places in Scripture. The book of 2 Kings refers to him as a prophet — a prophet ministering to Israel in the days of Jeroboam. He is referred to by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

Jonah Tries to Run from God

God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, Israel’s enemy, with a warning of their pending destruction if they didn’t repent, and turn from their wicked ways. But, Jonah refused and tried to run from God’s call.

But God is ever-present. He knows exactly where we are and what we are thinking. We can never escape from His Presence. Jonah discovered this when there came this great storm, and the mariners cast him into the sea, and a great fish swallowed him.

Jonah is Given a Second Chance

God is giving Jonah a second chance to obey His command. God has not changed His mind at all. He finally has changed the prophet’s mind — but he has not relented about what he wants Jonah to do or say to the Ninevites.

Jonah knew God too well, and that is why he didn’t want to go to Nineveh. If there was the slightest chance for Israel’s arch-enemy to experience the grace of God, he didn’t want to have any part in it. He would much rather see the entire city totally destroyed. But, we learned that God’s ways are not our ways.

If we are running from God – even ignoring His existence, and that He sent His Son, Jesus, as our way back to Him — He is calling to us. Just as Jonah was lost in the sea, and God knew where he was, God knows exactly where we are, and desires for us to cry out to Him for His help and mercy.

So, Jonah finally came to his senses, realizing who is in control and that he had better listen to God and follow His command; and go to Nineveh or suffer the consequence of disobeying Him. But, the message that he brought was one of God’s judgment — not of love!

Ordinarily, that kind of a message would not get much of a reception. And, yet, an amazing thing happens. This city was spared. Why did they listen to Jonah’s message? Because God’s Word is true and His judgments are sure.

Then, we concluded the Book of Jonah by looking at the prophet’s surprising reaction to the entire city repenting and turning to God.

Was he delighted? No! Jonah became angry at God. He became more delighted in a plant that God made for him for shade, than he was in seeing the city completely saved.

So, the Lord took away from Jonah that plant he so enjoyed, by having a little worm devour it, so that it withered and died.

God loved these Ninevites, even though they were disobedient, and Jonah hated them. Is Jonah any different than a lot of us? Sometimes we act as though we would be delighted to see those we perceive as enemies, or have a hatred for, have something terrible happen to them. We call it justice. But God’s love and justice are pure and without prejudices, and goes beyond our ability to understand.

Can anyone say that they are perfect, and truly deserving of God’s love and mercy? “No, not one,” as Psalm 14:3 and Romans 3:10 tell us.

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The Book of Jonah Chapter 4:10 & 11

January 29, 2013

Book of Jonah

But the LORD said, “You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left — and much livestock?”

The Lord’s Replies to Jonah

Jonah had pity on a plant that only provided shelter for him from the hot sun that was beating down on him. The plant was a living creation, formed and caused to grow by God, not Jonah.

But, plants are part of God’s living creation, but are very different from humans. Mankind was created in the image of God ( Genesis 1:27), and while plants are temporary, made for human consumption, humans have souls that go on into eternity.

Now, Jonah had compassion for this plant that gave him momentary shelter, but was consumed by the little worm that God also created to destroy the plant. And, God was bringing this important fact to Jonah’s attention.

The People of Nineveh

Then God asks Jonah, did you want Me to save your simple plant, but not have compassion on the souls of the people of Nineveh?

In essence, God was asking the all-important question, “Is your plant more valuable than the eternal life of a human soul?”

In other words, “How much more important is your career, your home, your car, your bank account, or your social standing in the world — than the human souls all around you, who, like the Ninevites, are heading for God’s judgment, if they do not repent and turn to Him?

So, our Lord closes the Book of Jonah by holding up the mirror to Jonah, as He holds it up for us — asking us to examine our lives, and set our priorities on serving Him, instead of overly-valuing, and pursuing, the things of the world.

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The Book of Jonah Chapter 4:8 & 9

January 23, 2013

Book of Jonah

And it happened, when the sun arose, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat on Jonah’s head, so that he grew faint. Then he wished death for himself, and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!”

God Prepares a Vehement Wind

The next morning as the sun rose, we are told, the Lord prepared a special wind from the East. This wind wasn’t just a mild breeze, but a strong “vehement east wind,” that blew on Jonah as the sun beat on his head, that he grew faint. This was a hot desert sandstorm that was directed at him. Did God have his attention, yet?!

Jonah still didn’t get it. He was more depressed over the death of this plant, than over the thousands in Nineveh that were slated for total death and destruction until he was used by God to cause them to turn to Him. And, again Jonah wishes that he were dead.

When a person is filled with inward grief and depression, a little thing like damaging this plant so that it withered, can overwhelm the person’s thinking and emotions. Jonah was so dejected that all of Nineveh wasn’t destroyed. He was looking at his own selfish desires, not at God’s purposes for his call to Nineveh — that he felt all alone, and wanted to die.

Jonah wasn’t the only prophet of God’s that felt dejected and alone. The prophet Elijah was also corrected by God when he was depressed, and thought that he was the only true prophet of God’s that hadn’t bowed his knee to the false god, Baal (1 Kings 19:18).

God’s Response to Jonah

Then, God confronts Jonah by asking him if he thinks it’s right to be angry and have these feelings and concerns for this plant.

God was looking into Jonah’s heart, and knew his true feelings that he was expressing. Jonah couldn’t hide behind any words that he might say. He knew that God knew everything about him, and that he was totally exposed before his Creator.

There are choices whom we will serve and what decisions we will make in life.

Although Jonah was not a false prophet, he was an ungrateful servant of the Lord’s, despising his call to serve. What a terrible tragedy to be in full-time service for God, yet disliking what you do. So, he concludes that the only way out is death. But, as we discussed a few lessons ago, death is not the end of life, but the entrance into eternity – eternity with God – or an eternal separation from Him, where there is no return.

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The Book of Jonah Chapter 4:6 & 7

January 14, 2013

Book of Jonah

And the LORD God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be shade for his head to deliver him from his misery. So Jonah was very grateful for the plant. But as morning dawned the next day God prepared a worm, and it so damaged the plant that it withered.

God Prepared a Plant

The Lord God prepared a plant and made it come up over Jonah: just as God had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah, now He prepared a particular plant to shelter Jonah as he waited, hoping that the city would be destroyed.

This plant acted as a covering of protection and shade for Jonah from the hot sun. And Jonah was pleased, and very grateful for the plant.

God Prepared a Worm

Then, the Lord prepared a little worm to infest Jonah’s precious plant. Just as soon as he had started to appreciate and cherish his plant, the Lord suddenly took it away, using this small creature to accomplish God’s purposes.

We could say that Jonah’s happiness was just as fleshly as his anger, against the Ninevites. Both were all about self. So God took away the covering He had provided for Jonah.

God’s Eternal Covering for His Children

Unlike the temporary covering God made for Jonah, our Lord has provided a wonderful, everlasting covering for His children – those whom He saves.

Christ Jesus covered our sins, if we are child of God. And, unlike Jonah’s covering that was temporary, our covering in Him is an everlasting covering that exonerates us — and frees us from the penalty of sin, and being condemned by God.

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The Book of Jonah Chapter 4:4 & 5

January 7, 2013

Book of Jonah

Then the LORD said, “Is it right for you to be angry?” So Jonah went out of the city and sat on the east side of the city. There he made himself a shelter and sat under it in the shade, till he might see what would become of the city.

The Lord Replies to Jonah

God questions Jonah’s heart. Jonah was His representative, called and sent on a specific assignment – even given a second chance when he tried to flee from God. Didn’t being in the belly of that great fish have any impact on his life, and recognition of the sovereignty of God?

Or, was he like the Israelites in the wilderness? They praised God, on the one hand, for His mighty deliverance as they crossed the divided waters of the Red Sea on dry ground, and saw their enemy, the Egyptian army, destroyed. Then, just three days later, when they reached Marah and found that the waters were bitter and unfit to drink, they began to murmur against Moses and God(Exodus 15).

Then, the Lord said, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

God shows His patience with Jonah, and that He is not quick to condemn, even when we are wrong and angry at Him.

So, the question becomes, is it right to question God’s response, even if it doesn’t go the way we want it to go?

And the answer must always be, “No, Lord. All Your ways always are right, even if I don’t understand them:”

Jonah Goes Out of the City

So Jonah, in his anger and dismay at what had happened to the people of Nineveh, is still not totally convinced that they all had truly repented, heeding God’s warning. So, he leaves the city to a safe-zone. There, we are told, he makes himself a shelter, and sits under it to watch to see what would happen to the city. Would God destroy it, like He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness? Let’s wait and see!

What a sad state of mind – to wish to see anyone, even those who you don’t like — your enemies — to be judged, and then destroyed, by God! Are you really worthy of God’s salvation? Are you perfect?

God in His matchless love for us, desires everyone to be saved — just like the people of Nineveh.

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The Book of Jonah Chapter 4:2 & 3

December 28, 2012

Book of Jonah

So he prayed to the LORD, and said, Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!

Jonah Prays to the Lord

Jonah feared that God would have mercy on his enemies, the people of Nineveh. He wanted to see them totally annihilated. But, God’s love goes beyond human comprehension.

Jonah, like many, was not willing to accept God’s mercy and forgiveness for others. He wanted revenge and destruction upon his enemies. He had no compassion for them, but wanted to see the people of Nineveh all destroyed, like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah.

But praise be to God that He is extremely patient with us, and that He is slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness.

Jonah says, “It is Better for Me to Die Than to Live.”

Jonah, still pouting and upset with God, wants to die instead.

Now, if God were to acknowledge Jonah’s request, would he be better off by dying?

Since God is a just God, how would Jonah stand before Almighty God’s perfect justice system, with an attitude of bitterness and hatred towards the people of Nineveh?

Death is final! There is no turning back, once we die. That’s why God’s mercy and forgiveness are so precious while there is still time to receive His love and salvation.

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The Book of Jonah Chapter 4:1

December 18, 2012

Book of Jonah

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he became angry.

Jonah’s Reaction to Nineveh Repenting

Jonah again shows that he is a fallible human — subject to sin and misgivings about the outcome of his preaching — and not a saint. While in the belly of the great fish, in all his despair, he could cry out to God for help. And, God heard him. But, regarding a people that he despised, he had no compassion for their salvation. Instead, he had a preconceived notion, hoping that they would all be destroyed by God — not saved.

This is why it is so important to realize that only a non-partial God, Who looks at all of mankind, can make just decisions – and that “Salvation is of the Lord.

Jesus is our prime example of God’s love for all of mankind, even to those who hated Him. In fact, unlike Jonah, Christ admonishes us to love even our enemies.

But, this is a hard task for a person, or people, that have been unjustly harmed by an evil enemy, such as the people of Israel were by the Ninevites. They would have been to the Israelites, as Nazi Germany may be to a Jew.

Corrie Ten Boom is a wonderful testament of Christ’s love. This remarkable woman spent the first 50 years of her life living peacefully with her father and sister above their watch shop in Haarlem, Holland. When World War II broke out, this devoutly Christ-like family began providing “hiding places” for persecuted Jews. Her great faith sustained her, then, through several months in Nazi concentration camps, and the death of her father and sister. Years later, after her release at the end of the war, she tells of speaking at a church, telling her story, when she noticed one of the guards of the prison, standing there in the service, listening to her talk:

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me, and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so, again, I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I prayed, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

As I took his hand, the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder, along my arm, and through my hand, a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger, that almost overwhelmed me! And so, I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness, any more than on our goodness, that the world’s healing hinges — but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

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The Book of Jonah Chapter 3:9 & 10

December 18, 2012

Book of Jonah

Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish? Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.

The Message of God’s Judgment

If we repent and turn away from our evil ways, are we then guaranteed that God will automatically turn His anger away from us? Some hold the belief that if we have any unconfessed sins, we are subject to God’s wrath and judgment. But, if we quickly confess these sins, then we are absolved – “good to go” in God’s eyes.

The act of confessing is not what God looks at. Yes, it is important to acknowledge our sins before God. But, much deeper than that, it is the attitude of our heart that God looks at.

God’s Response to the People of Nineveh Repenting

Then we read that God saw that the people of Nineveh –from the king, down — really meant what they said, and were truly repentant of their wrong doings.

God is a merciful God to those who are sincerely repentant of their wrong-doings.

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The Book of Jonah Chapter 3:6 – 8

December 4, 2012

Book of Jonah

Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.

The King’s Response to Jonah’s Message

Even in this ancient capital city, without rapid communication of the Internet, TV, or radio, news from this one person, Jonah, walking through the streets of this huge city, and his message of pending judgment, that in “forty-days Nineveh shall be overthrown,” immediately made its way to the king.

Jonah’s message was received as credible, and not just as a vain threat, so much that the king, himself, took action.

To cover yourself in sackcloth and ashes was, in the ancient world, a way of showing by your behavior that you were very sorry for something you did wrong.

The King’s Proclamation to the People of Nineveh

The king, himself, not only took these words that Jonah had declared to heart, but also, used his authority to make a public proclamation, even publishing it for all the inhabitants of Nineveh to adhere to, as a decree from him and his court of nobles.

Every one, without exception — that also included all of their animals — were to fast — and not to eat, or even drink, anything, until the fast had been declared over. They, too, were to cover themselves with sackcloth (man and beast), and cry out to “Mighty God,” for mercy and forgiveness; and they were to turn away from doing evil and committing acts of violence.

Oh, that God’s mercy and forgiveness would be extended to all within the sound of His voice, as they were when Jonah declared a message of warning; but, also, a message of hope and salvation.

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