Every Christmas we are drawn into a flurry of emotions. We have the great highs of presents, and decorations. There are armies of Santas and parades ready to charm the hearts of children and adult alike, but sometimes it’s possible to feel as if we are in the belly of a fish at the bottom of the ocean. Maybe you know something about this.
Our church is working through the book of Jonah this Advent season, and we are considering Jonah as an unexpected foreshadow of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their ministries find a point of unexpected connection in their work extending to be a light to the nations. Jonah himself had forsaken God’s clear command to preach a message of judgment on Nineveh. So Jonah ran. But his sin eventually earned him a one way ticket into learning firsthand how fish sticks were made. From the belly of a fish Jonah writes, “out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.” (Jonah 2:2 KJV) Jonah found himself in a living hell because he ran from God.
We recognize today that Jonah was not dead, nor was he suffering in the abode of the damned. But his own language betrays the reality that he felt as if he was caught somewhere between death and life. Maybe you know something about that today. So often when people say “Hello” they utter something like, “How you doing?” Rarely do people really mean these words. We recognize the superficiality of it and so we respond with superficial answers, “I’m doing great” or “Living the dream”. Now it is indeed possible that sincerity is found on both sides of this conversation. But what about those who aren’t? What about those people who are dying on the inside?
What would happen if people in our churches dared to be honest? If even for a moment we were able to pluck from our chests that fractured and delicate core we call our hearts and admit to someone the obvious, ”This was a really hard week” or “I didn’t even want to get out of bed” or even more bluntly “I’m dying on the inside, I feel like I’m in a living hell”. As Christians, we need to be honest about these things and talk to each other. The church needs to be a place where Christians can be honest about the struggles of every day life, and not live under the veneer of a Mr. Potato head smile.
One thing I love about the biblical church is that there is no room for rugged individualism – such positions are at their core are anti-Christ. As the Apostle Paul writes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together” (1 Corinthians 12:26 ESV) What we learn from Jonah’s basic prayer from the belly of the fish is this: If you are living in hell, hope is not beyond you.
One of the great lies that Satan utilizes is this “God cannot transform your situation.” I believe dear friend that Jonah is a wonderful example to counter such a lie. Just as Satan can corrupt a life, so Christ and His Spirit can renew and transform a life by the Gospel; and that includes you. This is precisely why the Lord Jesus Christ came into the world.
Christmas is not all about an infant Christ, for an infant makes no demands of you, nor does He confront you or remind you of God’s command to repent and believe. An infant cannot call you out to abandon every part of your life that is standing in contradiction to God’s demands for your life. And so often I believe this is why people celebrate Christmas, and no other part of the life of Christ. Because this sort of Jesus is safe and able to be handled. He can be put away when the season is over, and certainly isn’t to be considered deeply. He’s like a living room that’s meant to be observed but never lived in. But this sort of Jesus is futile in helping you with the deepest longings of your heart. And if you are living in hell today the great hope that you have is not simply doping yourself up with Christmas cheer but in clinging unto the Lord Jesus. The only we hope we have is bearing our guilty, sin-stained souls before Christ and calling out to Him for help. For hope does not come cheap, nor is it produced on the seedbed of ease and comfort. Hope is costly and immensely difficult to come by. But Jesus promised, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25 ESV)