Pastor Tullian Tchividian’s newest book, Surprised by Grace: God’s Relentless Pursuit of Rebels, published by Crossway, is a unique, gospel-centered study of the book of Jonah. After encouraging us to set aside “the notion that Jonah is primarily a story about a man gulped down by a fish”, he takes us verse by verse through the book, showing us that the story of Jonah reveals both God’s heart and our own, explicitly contrasting them in a way no other story in the Bible does. A unique feature: through the use of literature and art, he illustrates different aspects of the story of Jonah in a very memorable way. All the works of art he refers to are included in color plates in the center of the book, and he uses each one to show graphically an aspect of the story that we can apply.
Jonah tries to run from God…and quickly discovers that’s not possible. We tend to assume that the storm is God’s punishment for Jonah’s disobedience, but Pastor Tullian counters that it is, in fact, God’s intervention, brought about by his affection, not his anger. God could have easily left Jonah to his own devices and found someone else to do the job. Instead, in an act of mercy, he sends the storm to liberate Jonah-from himself. Running showed that Jonah was still relying on himself and his own strength and not submitting to God. We do the same thing. Some run by intentionally living by the world’s standards and rejecting God. Others run by being rule-keepers. Both ultimately show self reliance and are insufficient.
“Only the gospel can truly save you. The gospel doesn’t make bad people good; it makes dead people alive. That’s the difference between the gospel of Jesus Christ and every other world religion. All the others exhort their followers to save themselves by being good, conforming their lives to whatever their worshiped deity is. But the gospel is God’s acceptance of us based on what Christ has done, not on what we can do.”
God gives Jonah a second chance to get it right. It’s interesting that Jonah is grateful to be rescued, but there’s still no indication of repentance. But here we see three aspects of God’s amazing grace, according to Pastor Tullian:
- God doesn’t hold grudges. Our acceptance is not based on anything we do or don’t do. It’s based on what Christ has already done.
- No deals. God doesn’t lighten the load for Jonah. There are no negotiations. In the same way, God’s grace toward us is not a lessening of his demands…he still demands perfect obedience. Grace is experienced when we realize that these demands have already been met in Jesus.
- God doesn’t give up. If getting the task accomplished was all God was worried about, he could have easily just let Jonah go his way and found someone else. Since he knew Jonah would run, why did God ask him in the first place? Not because he needed Jonah, but because Jonah needed God! In the same way, God doesn’t need any of us. The reason he seeks, saves, and sends sinners like us is because God loves sinners.