Sunday, 4 March 2012

There He is!

Have you ever found yourself surrounded by darkness? At the bottom of the ocean or in the deepest valley and you feel that God is nowhere to be found there? It is a frightening place to be. It can feel like life is caving in on you and you don’t know how to breathe. It is in those moments, when God seems so far away, that we have to look harder to find Him. Jeremiah 29: 13 says, ‘When you search for me, you will find me’. It is very hard to muster up the strength and courage to go looking when you can’t see a way out of your trouble, or when all that seems to be around you is dark, but it is in those times that we have a choice to make and that choice will determine our future. He is there, He is closer than we think but some times we can’t feel Him.

When I was younger, my grandad died. He was a man of great faith and we prayed and prayed that God would heal him. God didn’t heal Him here on earth and when it was his time to go he knew exactly where he was going. He told my grandma that he could see angels coming to take him home and when he died he left traces of heaven in the bedroom. My grandma was there and my dad and uncle were with her. She was overcome with grief. That moment was the darkest moment of her life. She couldn’t feel God but my dad and my uncle could. In fact they tangibly encountered the presence of God in that room and they shook because of it. I tell that story because in the darkest place was God. My Grandma couldn’t feel Him but the others could. He was there, in that room. The power of the resurrection was in that room.

I want to look for a moment at the book of Jonah. When we think about Jonah, we think about a man who disobeyed God, was swallowed by a big fish, then was spat out and went to Nineveh. Sometimes we even picture scenes from the Disney film ‘Pinocchio’ and we imagine the story, as a child would, with Jonah in the belly of the fish alive and well, with his boat and his cat to keep him company. Maybe that’s just me! But this book is powerful. There is part of this story that I have missed every time and it was opened up to me by my dad.

So we find Jonah in a boat with some sailors. He is trying to flee the presence of the Lord, but God sends a storm and the sailors are frightened because they know that it is God who has caused the storm. Jonah owns up to being the problem and eventually they throw him overboard. The storm immediately stops. Then God provides a large fish to swallow Jonah and out of the belly of the fish Jonah cries out to God, saying

“I called to the Lord out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried and you heard my voice.” Jonah 2:2.

The rest of the prayer that follows is Jonah’s psalm of thanksgiving, but if we stop here and look at what is written we find an interesting thing. It is written, ‘out of the belly of Sheol’. The term ‘Sheol’ in Hebrew means a grave or pit. It was thought by the early Hebrews to be the place where the dead gathered and was believed to be located beneath the earth, perhaps at the roots of mountains. The dead were thought to lead a conscious shadowy existence there, they were not in torment, but had neither hope nor satisfaction. Some thought they remained cut off from God. So Jonah is in great distress and ‘out of the belly of Sheol’ he cried and God heard him. You could argue that Jonah had sunk to the bottom of the sea, in fact he could’ve drowned and found himself in Sheol. If he had died this means that God provided a fish to swallow up his body and it remained dead inside the fish for three days and three nights. When God heard his cry from Sheol, He told the fish to spit him out on to dry land and in fact, after three days and nights God brought him back to life. This could well have been a resurrection.

In the darkest place we can call out to the Lord out of our distress and he will answer. He is our provider. For Jonah it was a fish, for us it is the thing that sustains us. He will bring us out of our ‘Sheol’.

Now the other interesting thing about this is that Jonah remained in the fish for three days and nights. This fact is referred to in the book of Matthew and in the book of Luke. Matthew 12:38-42 tells us that the story of Jonah is a sign. It says “For just as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Jonah was a sign to the people of Nineveh and so Jesus is a sign to this generation. He was and is greater than Jonah. He is the resurrection!

Does death have the last word? Rob Bell says in his video Resurrection:

‘Resurrection announces that God has not given up on the world because this world matters, this world that we call home, dirt and blood and sweat and skin and light and water; this world that God is redeeming and restoring and renewing. Greed and violence and abuse they are not right and they cannot last because they belong to death and death does not belong. Resurrection says that what we do with our lives matters, in this body the one that we inhabit right now. So every act of compassion matters, every work of art that celebrates the good and the true matters, every fair and honest act of business and trade, every kind word they all belong and they will all go on in God’s good world. Nothing will be forgotten, nothing will be wasted it all has it’s place. Everybody believes something, everybody believes somebody. Jesus invites us to trust resurrection; that every glimmer of good, every hint of hope, every impulse that elevates the soul is a sign, a taste and glimpse of how things actually are and how things ultimately will be. Resurrection affirms this life and the next as a seem-less reality embraced graced and saved by God. There is an unexpected, mysterious presence who meets each of us in our lowest moments, when we have no strength, when we have nothing left.’  

When we can’t find God we must look at the resurrection. We must ask him to resurrect our hope and strength from the depths of the ocean, from our Sheol. We must look to the power of the resurrection. You know the Bible says that the same power that conquered the grave lives in us! In us! We must tap into that power and get up. We have a choice: do we let the enemy take us out or do we trust the power of the resurrection?

Nobody wants the suffering. Jesus didn’t want the suffering but He knew that after three days He would be brought back to life. God is our provider. God has seen to it. When our eyes are fixed on Him, there is where we will find our source of power: this resurrection power. When we wonder where Jesus is we can be sure He is not dead in the tomb! Whenever you touch someone’s life, resurrection power is there. There He is! in the resurrection.

You can find Him in the wind, in the trees, in creation. I found Him at the beach again. I found Him whilst looking for shells with my family, whilst hearing my children shouting ‘Wow! Look at this one!” whilst looking at a piece of glass that had been smoothed out by the torment of the waves of the sea and I saw myself as that piece of glass. Broken but beautiful and smoother because I choose to let God use the stormy waves to shape me. There He is! (At the beach in winter.) There He is! (In the flowers in spring.) There He is! In the resurrection and we can never be the same again. Will you trust the power of the resurrection? Trust that it can lift you out of the grave and into life? There He is! He is on the beach.

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