When we understand the mercy of God, it will always take us in directions we would rather not go, toward people we would rather not care about, and ultimately into the deepest counsels of God.
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Tim Keller: Our Father, when Christians get together to learn, it’s still something. It’s a form of fellowship, it’s a way of stirring each other up to love and good works, it’s a way of coming together and asking you to teach us. Holy Spirit, please teach us. So show us what we can learn from the Book of Jonah that would be of help to how we live in a society that is not one that any of us saw coming. A society that, in some ways, is unique in the history of the world. What does it mean for us to be Christians in this society? Help us because we spend this time together. We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
My title, and you must know it or you wouldn’t be here, is a “What a Minor Prophet,” that’s Jonah, the Book of Jonah, “what it can teach us about race, grace, and mission.” Race, grace, and mission.
Now, some of you know I wrote a book on Jonah but it was…because, over my lifetime, I preached on Jonah three times, all the way through, and it was my wife’s favorite book for me to preach on. And she just was after me for almost 15 years to put the sermons into a book, and I did. So I hope she’s satisfied.
And she says she is. And so, the Book of Jonah, a lot of narrative books are difficult to…it’s difficult to determine exactly what their purpose is. There are many books that, you know, what Paul tells you, you know, “I’m writing this to you, Philippians, so that you will do this and this and this.”
The real question is why was the Book of Jonah written? What’s the theme? What’s it really about? It’s a great story, it’s a narrative, but what is it about? And I guess I would say there are three competing candidates. When I read the commentators, some commentators, usually the more liberal ones, say, “It’s about race. It’s about Jonah’s nationalism and his racism.”
Other people say, “It’s about mission. It’s about how we must go into all the world and preach the gospel, not be afraid to do that, not be unwilling to do it.” And some people say it’s about grace, not so many do say that but I’m going to tell you I think if you have to choose between race, grace, and mission, it’s mainly about grace.
When I wrote the book I made a…the subtitle of the book is Jonah and the Mystery of God’s Mercy. And if you go through the entire book, not a very long book now, you go through the entire book, you’ll generally see that that’s Jonah’s struggle, and here’s the struggle, “How can God be both just and merciful to such a wicked nation as the Assyrians?” He’s always saying, “Look, I know you’re a merciful God but you’re also a just God. So how can you be both just and merciful to this wicked, evil, imperialistic violent nation, the Assyrians?”
And the answer to that can’t happen inside the book of Jonah. In fact, the answer can’t even happen inside the Old Testament. The reason it can’t is because, in the end, the only way we’re going to see how God can be both absolutely just, and yet, absolutely merciful and forgiving, at the same time, is when he gets to the cross.
So, in one sense, I think, and this is I think the main purpose of every book in the Old Testament, and I actually think it’s the main driving force in the book of Jonah, it’s the thing that Jonah can’t figure out, “If you’re this just God, how in the world could you possibly be merciful to these awful people? How can you be both just and merciful at the same time? I can understand you’re being merciful, but then, you’re not just. I can understand you’re being just but how can you be merciful? How could you be both?”
That’s the driving question. That’s what drives the narrative and the plot. And actually, as you know, the book of Jonah, ends on a cliffhanger. The Book of Jonah is very odd, it’s almost like an Old-Testament version of The Parable of the Prodigal Son. You know, The Parable of the Prodigal Son is about a younger son who rejects the Father’s love by running off and living with prostitutes and disobeying the Father.
But then, there’s an older brother who stays at home and seems to obey the Father but, in the end, we see that he also has rejected the Father’s love. And you remember that you have…in other words, there’s two ways to reject the Father’s love, one is by being disobedient, the other is by being very obedient and thinking, “Now the Father owes me.” So you have the prodigal son and you have the pharisee.
And they’re both ways of rejecting the love of the Father, that’s what The Parable of the Prodigal Son is about. And you remember The Parable of the Prodigal Son ends in a cliffhanger because, at the very end, the Father is saying to the older brother, “Won’t you come in? Won’t you give up your self-righteousness? Don’t you see what I have done? Don’t you understand my grace?”
And it ends as a cliffhanger. the Book of Jonah, many people have pointed out, is exactly the same kind of story. Some people even thought that Jesus, when he created The Parable of the Prodigal Son was looking at the Book of Jonah. Because, the first two chapters, Jonah is the younger brother. God asked him to do something and he disobeys and he runs away.
The second half of the Book of Jonah he’s the elder brother. This time he goes and he obeys God and he preaches to Nineveh. But, in the end, of course when Ninevites repent, he’s furious exactly like the older brother in The Parable of the Prodigal Son. He’s furious, “Why would God have mercy on these people?” And it ends with God looking at Jonah and saying, “Shouldn’t I have mercy? Shouldn’t I have mercy on 120,000 people who don’t know the right hand from their left?”
Do you see how remarkable the parallels between the Parable of the Prodigal Son, in the New Testament, and the parable of the prodigal prophet in the Old Testament, in which case Jonah plays both roles. And therefore, really the Book of Jonah is mainly about grace and about his inability to grasp grace, his inability to understand how God could be both just and merciful.
So it’s about the gospel. Even though the answer to the question doesn’t happen inside the Book of Jonah, you have to put the Book of Jonah in its context in the whole Bible and see how it points to the New Testament where alone, we have an answer to Jonah’s question. But having said that, and some of you probably know me enough to know I would’ve said that, that the Book of Jonah is about grace.
It’s also about race and mission. So I want to do, over the next…about half our time, is I’d like to talk about what the Book of Jonah tells us about race and what it tells us about mission. And maybe, if I’m well-behaved, I’d love to have some time for questions.
We’ll see. It’s a very big room but I would hate to talk all the way through the end. I’d love to hear some questions. So let me, first of all, talk about what we call race. What do I mean by that? Well, the fact is that the Book of Jonah contrasts Jonah to the very pagans that he despises. God says, “I want you to go and preach repentance to this group of people who are the Assyrians. They’re another race, they’re another nation, they are pagans, they’re idolaters, and of course they’re a major threat to the national security interests of Israel. And I want you to go and preach to them and call them to repent.”
Of course, Jonah resists that. First, he resists it by running away, then, he resisted by going. And after they do repent, he’s furious. And it’s very clear that he despises the people that God has called him to care for. And yet, all the way through, you can’t miss this if you read the Book of Jonah carefully, the author of Jonah is constantly contrasting Jonah with the very pagans he despises, and the pagans always make Jonah look bad.
And the pagans are always acting more admirably and acting in a way that is better than the way Jonah is acting. So when he’s on the boat, you know, he goes into the whole of the ship, he doesn’t pray to God, he doesn’t do anything. And the pagan sailors come down, the pagan captain comes down and says, “Why aren’t you helping?”
When they discover, by pressing him, that the storm is because he is running away from his God, they don’t grab hold of him and they don’t throw him overboard, “You’re the reason for all this,” they try to get out of the storm. In the end, he tells them, “Please, throw us in,” and they’re afraid to, they don’t want to. And finally, at the very end, they throw him in the water and, when the storm goes away, they sacrifice to Yahweh.
They sacrifice, they do sacrifices to, not just to God in general, not Elohim, but Yahweh, the Covenant name, they’re converted. The very people the Jonah’s said, “I’m not going to go to those filthy dirty pagans of another race and preach the gospel to them.”
And look what happens. Even though he is doing everything he can to avoid it, through him a group of pagans get converted, the very people he doesn’t want to help get converted. And it’s as clear as can be that Jonah actually is a less admirable person than the so-called dirty rotten pagans. And then, later on, when he goes to Nineveh, he says…interesting, by the way, here’s his gospel presentation, “40 days and you’re going to be destroyed.”
Simple. Winsome. And very practical. No, no. He doesn’t say, “Now, here’s how you can actually repent and get forgiveness.” Now some commentators say, “Well, of course Jonah must have told them how to repent. The text tells us all he said was, ’40 days and then it will be,'” you know, “‘overturned and destroyed.’ He must have told them more.”
The text doesn’t say that, the Bible doesn’t tell you that. And considering his attitude toward them that you see in the last chapter, I don’t think he did. I think he came to them and said, “You evil people, God is going to nuke you. In 40 days.”
But of course, they turn to God without much help at all from Jonah, and it says they repented from the least to the greatest. And they said “Oh Lord,” you know, they said, “maybe God will have mercy on us.” And, in the end, they have more trust in God’s mercy, which of course comes through because God relents and he doesn’t destroy them.
And, at the very end, Chapter 4, he’s furious, he’s angry, Jonah, because of course now God didn’t destroy the city and God says, “Do you have a right to be angry?” and he says, “yes, I have a right to be angry. Angry enough to die,” and he says, “I knew you were merciful and loving.” “I knew you were merciful and loving, I knew you might do something like this.”
So here’s the Ninevites with much more happiness and trust in the mercy of God than Jonah. Here’s the pagan sailors who are considerably more considerate of his safety than that he is of their safety. What’s the point? Some people have said that Jonah is the anti-Good Samaritan. If you put this Good Samaritan parable of the New Testament together with the Book of Jonah and the Old Testament, what do you get?
Now, let me remind you what the Good Samaritan is about. The Good Samaritan is a man who’s coming along and he’s in a very dangerous place on a road, the road to Jericho, infested with highwayman, and he comes upon a Jew. And the Jews and the Samaritans hated each other, two different races that despised each other. And he comes upon a Jew, his sworn enemy, but he sees the man had been beaten up by robbers, he was perhaps going to die, he desperately needed medical help.
But to even stop, for the Samaritan to even stop on the Jericho Road was taking his own life in his hand. One commentator says this, he says, “The Good Samaritan stops on the Jericho Road to assist someone he does not know in spite of the self-evident peril of doing so. He gives him his own goods and money freely making no arrangements for reciprocation, in order to obtain care for the stranger. He enters into an inn, itself a place of potential danger, and he even enters into an open-ended monetary relation with the innkeeper, an open-ended monetary relation with the innkeeper, a relationship in which the chance of extortion is very high.”
When Jesus is asked, when Jesus says, “You have to love your neighbor as yourself,” and Jesus is asked, “what does that mean? What does it mean to love my neighbor? Who is my neighbor?” Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan. And what is that story? A man who gives practical financial economic help to a person of a different race and of a different religion.
So when you ask Jesus, “What does it mean to love?” it means…he gives you an example, it doesn’t mean that’s the only way to love anybody, but he gives the example of someone who gives a sacrificial life-risking practical help to a person of a different race and religion. That’s what Jesus says, “There’s my example of what it means to love your neighbor.”
Which is exactly the opposite of what Jonah does. Jonah does not want to risk his life. In fact, he imperils the life of the people that he despises. So if you take the anti-Good Samaritan, Jonah, and you put him together with the Good Samaritan, let’s answer these questions from the Bible, ask the Bible this question, “Who is my neighbor?”
And the answer is anyone of any race or any religion that’s in need is your neighbor. “And what does it mean to love my neighbor?” It means not just to say, “Go, be warm and filled,” it doesn’t just mean to have feelings of warmth to them. In fact, not at all, there’s no indication that the Good Samaritan looked at the Jew and just had this great warmth in his heart for the Jew in the road, it’s to give practical help.
If it’s economic, it’s economic. If it’s physical, it’s physical. If it’s spiritual, it’s spiritual. Of course, the most important thing you could possibly do, the greatest thing you could ever do for anybody is to help them find faith and have their soul saved for eternity through the faith in Jesus Christ. That’s obviously the best way to love anybody. But it’s not the only way to love anybody, and Jesus makes sure you see that.
He’s my neighbor anybody, of any race or religion, what does it mean to love my neighbor? It means we’re supposed to be meeting the most basic needs. And then, thirdly, “How should I regard my neighbor?”
Notice, by the way, Jesus does not put a Jew on the horse going along and finding a Samaritan in the road, instead it’s fascinating– he’s telling a Jewish audience, “What does it mean to love my neighbor?” He puts a Samaritan on the horse and puts a Jew in the road. Why? He was trying to say, “You know these Samaritans? They don’t believe in God. They’re heretics, they’re racially different, they’re religiously different but they obviously are capable of great good, of great wisdom.” And “The Good Samaritan Parable,” in some ways, is Jesus giving us a doctrine of common grace.
And the common grace is you do not have to be a believer in the Living God in order to be a good person. You know why? Because God loves to make all kinds of people wise and good. He makes the world far better than it would’ve been if the only good people there were people who believed.
And therefore, “How should I regard my neighbor?” How should Jonah have regarded his pagan neighbors? They were actually, in many ways, more admirable than he was. So you see all those questions lead us to this, racism is a sin because it’s a violation of the second commandment.
And the second commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” is based on the doctrine of the Image of God. Every single person who’s created is in the image of God and, therefore, of equal dignity and worth. John Calvin, of all people, has a passage, in his Institutes, that is absolutely astonishing, in which he works out the social justice implications of the doctrine of the image of God.
Listen to what he says. He’s drawn some remarkable implications, Calvin says that he’s heard many Christians tell him, “I do not…there’s a foreigner in my neighborhood or there are some immoral people in my neighborhood and they do not deserve my help. So don’t tell me that I have to give practical aid and help to people who don’t deserve my help.”
Calvin turns around and says, “Even if they are amoral, even if they are of a different race or of a different religion, they’re in the image of God.” And this is what he says about that. He says, “You may,” this is a quote from Calvin’s Institutes, this is the third book, “say about the stranger before you that you owe nothing for any service of his, but God, as it were, has put him in his own place in order that you may recognize toward him the many and great benefits by which God has bound you to himself.
Sorry, let me translate that. “You say, ‘This stranger deserves nothing from me,’ but God has put him in his own place.” Why? Because he’s got the image of God in him. Listen to this, “You will say, ‘He has deserved something far different from me,’ but what has the Lord deserved?” This is John Calvin.
Look at your neighbor. Yes, your immoral neighbor. Yes, the neighbor of another race. Yes, a neighborhood that doesn’t deserve your help. Look at that person and say not what he deserves but what does God deserve because the image of God is on him. And then, he goes on and says, “Do not consider men’s evil intention but look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them.”
Do you know how hard this is? This is John Calvin, okay? Supposedly a narrow and very conservative reformed theologian. But listen, he says, “When you see someone who seems to not deserve your help,” he says, “remember not to consider men’s evil intentions
[inaudible] don’t look at their hearts, don’t look at their character, but look upon the image of God in them which cancels and effaces their transgressions.” What? “Cancels and effaces their transgressions and, with its beauty and dignity, allures us to love and embrace them.” And then, he goes on to say this, “Each Christian will so consider with himself a debtor to his neighbor that he ought, in exercising kindness toward them, set no other limit than the end of his resources.”
I’ll read it again. It’s breathtaking. Each Christian will so consider his neighbor, so consider himself a debtor to his neighbors, because of the image of God in them, that each Christian will exercise kindness toward them and set no other limit than the end of his resources. So John Calvin says, “If you just understand the image of God and you just understand the call to love your neighbor, you understand what Jesus Christ has said about that, you understand that they have the image of God on them, that you shall set no limit on your willingness to help them but the end of your resources.”
No matter what their race, no matter what their religion. Now what does that mean? The number one thing you do to help somebody, the best thing you can ever do is save their soul through faith in Jesus Christ. And therefore, building up the church is the single most important thing in lifting up gospel, the single-most important way to love the human race.
Okay? Nevertheless, the doctrine of the image of God shows this is not a maybe, this is not a…this is not an option. Is it secondary? Yeah, it is secondary, sure. Is doing justice, as it were, is loving your neighbor, is eliminating racism, is helping the people in need, is it as important as sharing the gospel?
No, but it is absolutely necessary. It’s not an option, it never can be an option because here we are. And what that also means is that then we have to do what Jonah did not have to do. The commentators point out that when Jonah was in that boat with all the pagan sailors, they come down and they say, “Why aren’t you praying to your God? We’re praying to our God. Why aren’t you helping us with the storm. What are you doing down here?”
You know what they’re saying is? “We’re all in the same boat. Why aren’t you caring about us? We care about you, why don’t you care about us?” Christians have to care about the common good. Christians have to look at their city, they have to look at their community. And the only way to love your neighbor is to make sure they have the things that they need. And let me give you a little list.
Everybody in your community ought to have a safe environment rather than a community that’s plagued by crime or health hazards. Everybody in your community ought to have humane workplaces, a place where there’s jobs that are available. Every community needs a state of peace rather than one marked by violence between individual races, groups, or nations. Everyone in your community, your city, needs a just social order rather than one marked by corruption and by a justice system weighted against the weak or the poor.
They need publicly-available resources like good educational institutions.
You know, what are we talking about here? We’re talking about loving your neighbor. You say, “Oh, that’s all that social political stuff.” Yeah, it is. But I don’t know how you love your neighbor without doing stuff like that.
And this is the most important thing that Christians can do now. I think the church’s job, as the church, is to lift up the gospel, I think Christians’ job is to both share their faith and also love their neighbor. But it is not an option, it’s not like, “Well, you know, those of you who’d like to be into that.” No, it’s not an option. And to work against racism is at the very heart of what it means to honor the image of God and love your neighbor as yourself.
Okay. Now, the second thing I want to talk about…that’s race, and this is all in the Book of Jonah. The second thing I want to talk about for maybe 10 minutes is this, I’ve already mentioned, it’s a subject of justice. It’s interesting that when Jonah is thrown overboard, the pagan sailors look like they convert. Now, it doesn’t exactly say that, but they offer sacrifices and they call on the name of the Lord and it’s the Yahweh, it’s the covenant name.
So it certainly looks like that, weirdly enough, Jonah, by disobeying the call to win pagans to true faith in the Lord, he actually ends up winning pagans to faith in the Lord. What happens at Nineveh is rather different. I’ve heard people say, “Nineveh had a great revival.” But what’s interesting is, if you read what actually happens… actually in here, I can probably find it somewhere. Yeah, okay. This is Jonah Chapter 3, “Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time saying, ‘Arise. Go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to her the message that I tell you. So Jonah rose, set out for Nineveh according to the word of the Lord. Jonah went a day’s journey into the city, and then, called out, ‘In 40 days, Nineveh will be overthrown.’ And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth. From the greatest of them to the least, the word reached the king of Nineveh and he rose from his throne, stripped off his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he cried out and issued a decree in Nineveh, ‘By the decree of the king and his Nobles, let no man or beast, no herd or flock, taste anything. Let them not graze or drink water but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth and let them call out to God with fervor. Let every person forsake his evil ways and the violence that they are doing toward others. Who knows, God may relent and turn from his fierce anger.”
Verse 10 says, “When God examined their deeds, how they forsook their evil way, He renounced the disaster He said He would do to them and He did not carry it out.” Now, look very carefully. Did the city of Nineveh convert? No. Interesting. When Jonah… First of all, the word Yahweh is never used, the covenant name’s never used.
It doesn’t say they called on the name of the Lord, like the pagan sailors did. All the way through, you have the Hebrew word Elohim, Elohim, Elohim. So they called to God…and notice, it doesn’t say they put away their idols, which is a sign of conversion, it doesn’t say they got circumcised.
But what it says is, the King says, “Turn from the violence you were doing to your neighbor. Turn from your evil ways.” What’s actually happening here is a form of social reform. What Jonah says is, because of your evil ways, you’re going to be destroyed.
They changed their evil ways. And what’s going on is we know this about the Assyrians, they were a very violent society. There was a great deal of crime, there was a great deal of injustice, there was a lot of slavery, it was a violent culture. And the king of Nineveh gets convicted that, “We’ve got to clean up our act,” but it doesn’t say that they converted.
And so, Jonah comes and preaches the wrath of God and the result is a social reform but not a revival or a sort of conversion. What do we learn here? First of all, most commentators point out that when Amos, when Isaiah and Jeremiah, there are some places where God has the prophets speak to the pagan nations.
And when they speak to the pagan nations, they generally speak to pagan nations about their violence, about their injustice, about the way they’re treating people. This isn’t a big surprise here. What you have is…what is the mission of Jonah? Preaching the wrath of God and bringing about social reform. Now, right now, from what I can tell when I look around the world, I see people preaching the wrath of God and not doing much at all about the justice and injustices in society.
Then I also see Christians who are out there trying to help society and trying to do social justice, but they don’t preach the wrath of God. What you have, in Jonah, is a mission in which God is very concerned about injustice in society. Because look, even though they don’t convert, the Ninevites don’t convert, the fact that they turned from their violence is enough for God to say, “I’ll give you another chance.”
God relents, which means, to some degree…obviously they’re not saved, obviously they haven’t turned to true faith, and yet, God is glad and he shows that he’s glad that they did a social reform. On the other hand, Jonah comes in there preaching the wrath of God.
And I just say that I believe, I’ll give you a couple of final ideas here because I’d like to have 25 minutes in which you can ask me some questions, I’ve said that I believe that the primary reason…here I’m following, I’m absolutely tracking with my friend, brother Kevin DeYoung, the primary thing the church is supposed to do is to preach the wrath of God against sin and to call people to repentance and to see people believe and have faith in Jesus Christ.
It’s also true that the Bible says, Jesus says, that Christians are supposed to be salt and light in the world. You know what salt does? Salt penetrates the world and keeps it from going…you know, salt goes into meat to keep it from going bad. Salt goes into meat to bring out the flavor and to keep it from going bad.
And when Jesus says, “You’re the salt of the earth,” he’s talking about the fact that, yes, gathered together, we’re preaching the gospel but, spread out, we’re not only talking to people or friends about the gospel but we’re also loving our neighborhood, we’re also out there being good Samaritans. And it keeps society from going bad. It keeps it from becoming corrupt. To some degree, there’s corruption.
To some degree. And therefore, what is the mission of the church? In one way, I would say, the mission of the church is to preach the gospel. What is the mission of the church not just gathered but also scattered? Not just the church gathered, as a body, but the church scattered all the Christian individuals? It’s to both do that in word and deed.
In other words, witness to the gospel not only by sharing faith and calling people to repentance, yes, we’re supposed to do that with our friends, but we’re also supposed to be doing justice and caring for the poor. And it’s when those two things come together that you really have a powerful mission. When the world sees Christians only evangelizing and not caring about society, not doing the Good Samaritan thing, when the world sees Christians only evangelizing, you know what they see?
They actually see people who just care about increasing their tribe, increasing their market share, increasing their power. No, that’s not true but, from the outside, they don’t have the Holy Spirit, what else are they going to think when they see you do evangelism and the church grows and grows and grows. They’re going to say, “They’re just like every other business in the world, every other power block in the world trying to get a bigger part of the market.”
But when they see us evangelizing and pouring ourselves out for the poor and the needy and caring about racial justice, when they see us doing both, as Christians, then I think, frankly, the preaching of the gospel makes a lot more sense to them. I think I’ll just say this, there is, as you know, a fair amount of controversy, in last couple of years, that when Christians talk about doing justice, that sounds literal, sounds like the social gospel.
Keep this in mind, the Bible talks about justice all the time and the world talks about justice all the time, but those are very different accounts of justice. The Bible’s justice is based on the idea that we’re all made in the image of God and, therefore, every human being, in the image of God, has rights as it were. Let me just give you a couple of examples of where the Bible talks about…because of the image of God, what does the Bible say when it talks about justice.
So, for example, biblical justice means giving equal treatment to people. So Leviticus 24:22 says, “Have the same law for the foreigner as for the native-born.” You’re promoting injustice if you privilege one race or nationality over another. If you privilege citizens who of one race over citizens of another race.
A host of other biblical texts denounce any judicial system weighted in favor of the wealthy while disenfranchising the poor.” Okay. Secondly, the Bible says, “Justice means having a special concern for those without power.” So Proverbs 31:8 and 9 says, “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves. Speak up for the rights of all who are destitute. Defend the rights of the poor and the needy.”
That’s the Bible. So to say, “Speak up for the rights, speak up for human rights, defend the poor and the needy,” that’s just what the Bible says about justice. But what’s it based on? It’s based on love. I have to do that because I’m commanded to love. When Jesus says, “All of the commandments are comprised under two headings, they can all be summarized by this, love God and love your neighbor as yourself.”
That means that anything the Bible says you must do in the law either basically breaks down to a form of loving God and/or a form of loving other people. And therefore, when I’m doing justice, it’s a form of love. When the world talks about justice, it’s not talking about the same thing.
In fact, the world, when it talks about justice, is almost talking about the opposite of love. Have you noticed that? See, when I’m doing justice, that means I’m loving not only the victim but also maybe the perpetrator. If I’m saying to someone, “You are doing something wrong,” I’m doing that out of love for them. Not only out of love for the people that that person may harm and not only love for God but love for that person because it’s never loving to let somebody go on sinning.
It’s never loving to them at all. And so, if I’m trying to stop someone from doing injustice, I’m doing it out of love. And if they decide to stop, I can forgive them. Why? Because my justice is actually a form of love. The world’s justice is not the form of love, the world’s justice is the opposite of love. The world says, “I can either be just or I can be loving. I can’t do both.”
Loving means I accept everything they do. Justice means I stop it. And then, of course if I stop you then I can’t ever forgive you because the world’s justice is not based on the image of God, the world’s justice is just an exercise in power. And the world’s justice does not know how to forgive perpetrators. You can see it right now every day, read the newspaper.
To say that the world’s kind of justice, and they’re always talking about justice out there in the world, that somehow that means the Christians shouldn’t be doing justice, we can’t do justice, a social gospel’s wrong, it’s wrong because the Bible talks about justice all the time. But biblical justice is not the world’s secular justice. So there are some ideas from Jonah on the mission of the church and there are some ideas on race.
And so now, what I’m going to ask for the final 23 minutes and 55 seconds, 54 seconds, 53 seconds, is, if you’ve got a question, raise your hand, I got two wandering mics. There’s way too many people to do this but I just can’t imagine talking all the way for 60 minutes. So… Okay, mic guys…
Their names aren’t actually Mike but I’m going to call them…you know, 1 Michael, 2 Michael. Okay? Choose somebody. Oh, you want me to choose. Just right here, I can see her. Raise your hand, I’m kind of nearsighted, an old guy. Right here.
Female 1: What do you say about the notion that Jonah is prefiguring Jesus?
Keller: Great. Does Jonah prefigure Jesus? Yes. Now, he’s, in some ways, he’s a bad prefigure. I mean, in Mark, Chapter 4, when Jesus is asleep in the boat, look up a commentary somewhere, and I’ll show you that the depiction of Jesus in the boat, in Mark, Chapter 4, and the depiction of Jonah in the boat in, in Jonah, Chapter 1, are almost identical.
There’s a wind that comes up, Jonah is asleep during the storm, Jesus is asleep during the storm, the sailors come in and say, “Don’t you care, what are you doing asleep?” And they both get up and they both solve the problem. Jonah of course says that the way for you to be saved from the wrath of God is to throw me into the wrath, and then, I will die instead of you.
Jesus of course, in the boat, just stills the storm. But most, I think, wise commentators say the reason Jesus could still the storm was because that eventually, on the cross, Jesus was thrown into the ultimate wrath of God, he bowed his head into the ultimate storm, which is the wrath of God, and he took it so we wouldn’t die.
And of course, there is that reference in the book, in Matthew, where Jesus actually says that his death and resurrection is the sign of Jonah. So he even sees that Jonah’s death, and then, his resurrection, as it were, from the fish, having saved people from the wrath of God is a prefigure of Jesus himself. So thank you, I love leading questions.
Thank you for giving me an opportunity to say something I should’ve said before, I love that.
Somebody else? Right over here. Sorry, I’m not going to be able to see everybody, but this is better. It’s certainly better than just talking for 60 minutes. Go ahead. –
Male 1: I’m from South Korea. I’m just curious, as a foreigner, what do you think…or what evangelicals in America think of the policy of Donald Trump? I mean like immigrants, like, you know, what Trump…yeah, [crosstalk] those things.
Keller: Thank you, brother. It’s inevitable that somebody would ask, but you see, the Americans didn’t have the same amount of courage that you did. Well, I don’t think I want to say anything… Listen, Donald Trump is part of a movement, in the Western world, Donald Trump is not alone, he is one of many leaders, in Europe as well, that are saying, “We’re having too many immigrants and we are being overwhelmed by people from other countries.”
So Brexit is about that, there’s political parties all through Europe that are also saying, “We’re having too many immigrants.” And Donald Trump has also been elected by people who are saying the same thing, “Too many immigrants.” Let me make a distinction between the policy and an attitude.
The policy is, I don’t think, I hope no one disagrees that every single nation has to have some standards. So, in other words, no nation can just be overwhelmed by immigrants, there has to be some kind of policy. Every nation has to decide, “Well, how many can we assimilate and not hurt our economy? How many can we assimilate and not hurt our school system?”
So I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be standards for immigration. And I’m also not going to say anything because I don’t know enough to know whether America has too many immigrants or not. I know it’s possible and I’m not going to tell you about that. But here’s what I’m more concerned about, biblically, an attitude toward people of other races, biblically, an attitude toward immigrants that can arise in a nation that sees all these foreigners here taking our jobs and you start to develop an anger toward them and a resentment of them, the Bible says, that is an unchristian position.
So rather than say, “I know that Donald Trump’s policies are right or wrong about immigration,” I don’t think I’m qualified to talk about that but if, along with his election and many other people’s election has come an attitude that is anti-immigrant and also racist…and I do see it, yes, I do see rising racism right now in our country.
In spite of the fact that African Americans certainly have more rights than they did 100 years ago, even 50 years ago, maybe even 20 years ago, I’m not saying there’s been no improvements at all. But there is right now an attitude against immigrants that I do think the book of Jonah speaks to. So I’m just trying to be careful, like I’m not saying…I’ve had people tell me that Donald Trump is fixing our immigration policy and it was broken, and I’ve had other people tell me that he’s making it worse.
And I don’t think that’s necessarily my job, as a preacher of the gospel to be sure. I don’t think I have to tell you here. My job is to tell you about what the Bible says. The Bible says we musn’t have that hard attitude toward immigrants that I do see rising in this country. Whether to blame Donald Trump or not, I don’t think I want to do that.
Somebody else. Let’s go back further, we shouldn’t privilege the front. That may be unjust. Wait a minute, we got here first. Okay.
Male 2: Hi, Tim. Excuse me. I started receiving your sermons, in 1990, when you got to Manhattan.
Keller: You’re not a young man, are you? Go ahead, go ahead.
Male 2: No. And I just want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I came here to give you a hug but I would love it if we could hear your heart, if you would summarize in a three-point way. If you were to praise Jesus for what has happened, from Hopewell until now, could you give us something about your heart, about that?
Keller: You’re getting personal. Or maybe you’re trying to make me get personal. You should ask my wife. But she’s not here. Well, you know, Kathy…oh, I don’t know. You know, you get the cigar… Do you smoke? …for the hardest question. Yeah. Listen, the one thing I’ve got that is a natural…you know that place where Paul says, you know, “I feel like a fool because you’re making me talk about myself, but I got to do it.”
Okay. I have a really good memory. I mean I’m 68-years-old and I don’t know how much longer this is going to last, I haven’t felt it slip yet, it’s got to eventually, but that is the one thing…it’s not a virtue, I didn’t work on my memory. I’ve unusually good memory and that is the one advantage I’ve had, as a preacher, that I remember what I read very well.
And yet, you know, there’s nothing to be proud of about it. It’s not even necessarily intelligent, I have to tell you though, a great memory makes you really sound important. I mean that doesn’t necessarily mean you understand what you’ve read in the books and all that. Apart from that, I think Kathy and I would say, and I’m talking about us both, is we’re stunned by how good God’s been to us because actually we were never the first one chosen in sports, you know, we didn’t date anybody till we got to college because we were just scared and we were wallflowers and, you know, we weren’t…you know, I don’t have a PhD, I’ve got a Doctor of Ministry, which is, you know, is actually a Master’s of Practical Theology but the accreditors all got together and said, “Nobody will pay for those.”
So we have Doctor of Ministries. And so, I’m not actually an academic, and yet, you know, God’s blessed us. So our favorite verse is, “God chooses the weak things of the world to shame the…” You know, “The foolish things of the world to shame the wise, the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” “The lowly and despised things, even the things that are not to bring to nothing the things that are, so that no one may boast in His presence.”
So yeah, we were just never. We were never the people that people said, “Oh, they’re going to be successful,” and we’re kind of glad that God sort of backed us into a certain amount of fruitfulness at this point. So that’s it, I’m not going any further and… Anyway, okay. Somebody else please. I know it was very well-meant, I appreciate your encouragement.
Yes? Right behind you. See? Right behind. Sorry.
Male 3: So if I could jump back to Jonah real quick.
Keller: Yeah, get away from Tim.
Male 3: So, the Book of Jonah, it ends, like you said, on a cliffhanger but with Jonah writing the book. How do you kind of see Jonah being able to write a book about himself in that light?
Keller: A great point. Now, I don’t know that Jonah wrote the book. It doesn’t indicate he wrote the book but it’s clear that he must have been the source of the material…or how would you know what he had said in the fish? You know. How would you know about his dialogs with God?
So even though I think it makes most sense to say that someone, later on, wrote down what Jonah told about himself. And I think most commentators even think it’s a total legend, as you know, plenty of them think it was just made up. I’m not one of those. I got my reasons, I mentioned them in the beginning of my volume, I try to explain some reasons why I don’t think it’s a fairy tale.
The people then who do think it actually happened would not say that Jonah necessarily was the author, but he certainly was the source of it. It probably was the story he told about himself. And here’s the great thing about that. Jonah is sort of like Peter, they say that the source of the Gospel of Mark was probably Peter’s reminiscence.
Read the Gospel of Mark, Peter looks terrible. Absolutely terrible. He looks worse in that gospel than any other. And yet, tradition says he was the source of that gospel. So my guess is Jonah, somebody we don’t know who wrote Jonah, Jonah was the source and somebody wrote it down. But he looks terrible, why would anybody tell a story that makes him look so bad?
And the answer is I do think he must have understood the grace of God in the end. Only a repentant sinner, only somebody who understood the grace of God would ever tell a story that made him look so bad. So I actually have, when people say, “Well, what do you think happened to Jonah?” I say, “I have fairly good assurance that he got it, he figured it out.He gave God a good answer and he began to see that he was as wicked as the Ninevites, if not worse, and that he also was living only by the mercy of God.”
And I think, when that finally hit him, I think it changed him. And the only possible way he would’ve told a story like that…in some ways, the Book of Jonah is Jonah’s confession. So that’s what I think happened. Somebody else? Ten more minutes. Yeah, right here, somebody down front. Yeah, either of you.
Male 4: I want to be a better teacher and I was wondering if you had any advice.
Keller: By the way, you mean teacher of Christian stuff, Bible stuff, or just teacher, period? Yeah, a Bible teacher, a Christian teacher. Okay. Well, here’s something that all teachers should know, you should know a lot more about the subject than you’re going to talk about.
If you’re going to talk on topic A, you need to know three times more stuff about topic A than you actually can cover. Not only will that mean that, as you talk, you won’t just be tied to your notes because you’ll know more than when you’ve actually got down there. Also, sometimes, as you’re teaching, you’ll suddenly realize, “Wait a minute, I need to bring something else in,” and you’ll have something to bring in. And if you get questions, there’s something to say. So one little thing is: know a whole lot more about the subject than you know.
Secondly, you really need to do rapid reading of the Bible. It’s really really important, whatever you’re going to teach on has to be put in perspective. For many many years, I got this idea, of course, from John Stott, and he got it from Dr. Lloyd-Jones, that the M’Cheyne Reading Calendar or something like that…but here’s why I like the M’Cheyne Reading Calendar, you get through the Bible in a year but you also get through the New Testament twice in a year and the Psalms twice in a year. And I would say whatever you’re going to teach, basically whatever you’re teaching, you’ve got to know the Bible. And the only way, get started now because it takes a number of years, but you’d be amazed at how it accumulates.
I don’t know how long it would take for many of you, it means reading four chapters a day every day. And what John Stott used to say is, “Be careful because. You’re going to read a lot of things that you wish you could study more, and you won’t have the time or else you’re going to get behind. You got to do it and do it and do it.”
In about 4 or 5 years, it’ll really start to pay off. But give yourself enough time to have one thing, every single day, that you read that you go, “What?” or, “Huh?” and that you look up in a commentary. In other words, one thing that you look up in a commentary, take a couple of notes.
It should probably take you about 20 minutes, 30 minutes, something like that. The only way you’re going to be a good Bible teacher in anything is just to know the Bible. And so, rapid reading of the Bible and know more than you’re going to, you know do. The other thing is: know your audience is the last thing to say.
The best thing for you to do is, when you’re writing your talk and you have some idea who your audience is, which isn’t always possible, but as you’re writing your talk, imagine the kind of questions or problems or concerns that your listeners are going to have. If you’re going to teach a Bible text, as you’re studying the text, imagine all the kinds of questions that you’d probably get from people.
So imagine their questions before they ask them, know three times more about the topic than you actually are going to deliver, and just have this underlying reading of the Bible, which actually means you’re actually not going to be a great teacher…I mean you’re not going to be as good a teacher now as you will if you start…it accumulates going through the Bible over and over and over again. So there’s three ideas.
I’m sure there’s more but I’m just speaking off-the-cuff here. Somebody else? Go about halfway down behind… I’ll tell you what, okay, I’m going to do both. The person pointing to herself, which of course is rather self-referential. But go ahead. –
Female 2: You get this because I sat up front. Speaking of audience, I work in a 3,000-member church in the suburbs, we’re very white, very similar socioeconomically. So what you just shared about the poor and all the book of Jonah, I’d like maybe some specific practical ways that we can care for those around us.
We’d love for the fabric of our church to change a little bit, but it seems… I don’t want that the reason to be reaching for the poor but… Anyway. Thanks.
Keller: Yeah. Okay. And by the way, the guy behind you is next. Behind her. But not just say it. I don’t know that I’m going to… I can, again, speak very off-the-cuff.
There’s an awful lot of books out there talking to people…if you live in a very affluent homogeneous place, and there’s plenty of places like that, keep in mind that they are going to…that’s a shrinking part of the American pie, the very white, very affluent.
Some people feel like this is going to go on forever but it’s not going to stay that way. That’s all. So, in some ways, I should be patient and it’ll come up to you, but you want to be getting ready. I think you want to be talking about, you should be talking to people…you need to do the biblical teaching first. I don’t know, I’ve written a book Generous Justice, trying so hard to, not only make sure we’re being biblical rather than political, trying to balance those things.
So, for example, one of the balances you want to say is that, if you’re going to be caring, in the neighborhood, as much as you can, the best thing…even in a homogeneous place, you’ve got elderly people, you’ve got single-parent families, you’ve got disabled handicapped people of various sorts right there. These are all people who actually are somewhat disempowered, for various reasons.
And you’re going to have them anywhere. I remember, over the years, telling people, “At least start there and find out what those needs are and make space in your church.”
The other thing is those are people that, fairly easily, probably don’t have as much of a cultural problem coming into your church. In other words, you don’t have a cultural barrier. The second thing to say is that I am of the belief that what your church can basically do to reach really needy populations maybe a little further away is to try to get people to start their own little non-profits.
I do think it’s a danger for…I mean, in New York City, for example, one of the things I often saw was very…church is very concerned about the neighborhood, [inaudible] preaching the gospel. So, let’s just say, you have five elders over this church, they’re preaching the gospel, and set up a low-income housing, they bought a home, you know, to do low-income housing, and they started a drug rehab center over here, and they started, you know, a ministry to prostitutes.
I remember, years ago, there was a Nazarene Church, right in Times Square, back when Times Square was a really wild and unruly place. Thirty years ago, it was a frightening place to walk through. And they said, “We’re here in Times Square, we’re going to meet…” And they said, “Drug addicts, and poor people, and homeless people, and prostitutes,” and they had ministries to all of them.
And it killed the poor elders because the elders, not only had to run a church, but what do they know about those things? What do they know about drug rehabilitation? And what we learned, over the years, was to say, “Encourage your people and promote those people but let people, in your church, you’ve got a real heart for, needy populations, form their own 501(c)(3)s and get their own expertise.”
You also don’t need ministers to do those things. Laypeople very often are better at it. You need teachers and doctors and people like that. So let your laypeople form these 501(c)(3)s to get out there and do it, instead of making the church itself try to run all those ministries, which I don’t think is the main job of the church, it’s to preach the gospel. Okay?
So there’s the two ideas. There was a hand…what was the hand that I was sent before this? There was another hand. Yeah, okay. Right there.
Male 5: Tim, I want to thank you for your…and thank the Lord for your ministry. I am a former Seventh-day Adventist pastor and I resigned early this year. And I joined the staff at an event at a local church, in the Northwest part of this state. And I thank the Lord for your ministry, you taught me, you and Edmund Clowney taught me how the entire Bible is about Jesus.
And I want to ask you if, in your ministry in New York or wherever you’ve seen, what are your thoughts on Hispanic churches and Spanish-speaking churches here in North America? I haven’t seen anything yet that works well for all those generations?
I know it’s a complicated thing, but if you have any thoughts on that. Thank you.
Keller: Well, listen, I have 1 minute and 16, 15, 14, 13…okay. So I’ll just say I no longer work for Redeemer I work for Redeemer City to City, which was our church planting department that’s spun out in its own 501(c)(3). And we help people, in cities around the world, plant more churches in their biggest cities.
In New York, for whatever reason, we probably have more Hispanic staff than African-American, and even more than Asian. And so, actually what you might want to do is…I have 36 seconds.
What you really ought to do is contact Redeemer City to City and talk to, say, Michael Carrion. Think of that name. He’s Dominican I think. Dominican. And what’s happening in the big cities, in New York, is an awful lot of neighborhoods that used to be mono-ethnic, that were all Haitian, were all Dominican, or all Puerto-Rican, or that…they’re actually…they’re all becoming multi-class and multi-ethnic.
Changes in cities are happening, across this country, in which it used to be, “Well, this is a Dominican neighborhood so we can just start a service in Spanish,” and suddenly, you’ve got Jewish people and you’ve got young Korean hedge-fund people, and you’ve got, “What are we doing?” And so, it’s intriguing. In the past, white churches have had to say, “How do we bring in people in the neighborhood of other races?”
But now, non-white pastors are asking the same question. New York is always a little bit ahead of the curve, I know there’s a lot of arrogance in that sort of thing, but it tends to be. Very often New York and LA change started and they filtered to the rest of the country.
You might want to just get a hold of Michael…and anybody else here who wants to talk… Redeemer City to City, at this point, has more Hispanic staff workers than any other. And they might be of help to you. But now, I went past my limit, I’m in the red, it’s red now to me. And I think that means I need to close in prayer. Okay? Let’s pray.
Father, thank you for giving us some time to just connect as brothers and sisters here, at the end. And I do thank you that you brought us here, the Gospel Coalition, to stir each other up to love and good works. I pray that we just did that, I pray that you would help us to strike these balances at a time in which we do find the church pulled by the Left and the Right.
It’s a time of great hostility where Christians are criticizing Christians. I pray that we come out of this conference with more clarity than ever and more ideas than ever about how to be your people in this cultural moment and this time and place.
And we thank you for our time now, and we pray that you continue to be with us as we continue to learn from you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. You need to get on. Thanks.