Eighty years ago, a little boy was walking down a sidewalk holding his mother’s hand.
A man was approaching from the other direction. He was white. Desmond and his mother were black. This was South Africa. The man stepped aside, smiled, tipped his hat as if to say, “You first.” They passed. Desmond looked up at his mother and asked, “Why was that man so nice to you?” “That man is a minister of the Gospel” she responded. “People like that are nice to everyone.”The Nobel Prize winning Archbishop Desmond Tutu recalls that it was then and there he decided: “That’s what I want to be when I grow up.”
About fifty years ago, he sat at my table and “drank from my cup.” I don’t remember a Nobel Prize-winning Archbishop, but I think I do remember a man from Africa that my dad had invited to dinner, who had something to do with Jesus… and was nice.
So, who changes the world: scholars, commanders of armies, Hitler, Stalin, the president, the president elect…or some unknown man who steps aside, tips his hat, and let’s a poor woman and a little boy go first?
Last week we began preaching on Jonah, the “partisan prophet” who engaged in partisan politics—all politics in this world are at least a bit partisan.
To be “partisan,” simply define your “polis” (Greek for “city”), and then pit it against another polis—define your polis as “first,” by judging others to be “last.”
If you are thoroughly partisan, you’ll use the Truth and the Life, thinking that’s the Way, and then find yourself lost and alone because you crucified the Truth and the Life to serve your polis… and that’s not the Way.
If we believe “America first,” what is “last”?
Perhaps it’s “first at something.” If so, what is that “something”?
Partisan politics has its place for a time, but if partisan politics becomes partisan theology, you may end up in hell… like Jonah.
Some will rightfully ask, “Well, isn’t God partisan? Didn’t God pick Israel to be first?” Yes! That’s what makes the story of Jonah so fascinating: Jonah was the partisan prophet of Israel when the walking talking Word of God with a face told Jonah to go to Nineveh and preach.
Jonah flees and goes to hell. “…Out of the belly of hell I cried, and thou heardest my voice.” (Jonah 2:2 KJV)
Some say I don’t believe in hell, but I talk about hell (both Hades and Gehenna) more than any pastor I know. Not only do I think it’s a place, I think you might go to that place if you want others to go to that place. No one can stay there forever without end because Jesus is the End. Jesus is Salvation. Jesus is the judgment of God. But if you hate the judgment of God, you can go to hell… for a time. Just ask Jonah, prophet of Israel.
It’s interesting that hell isn’t mentioned in the book of Acts, the gospel to the nations.
But repeatably, Jesus speaks about hell to his chosen: Israel.
If America is “exceptional,” like Israel is exceptional, America better pay exceptional attention to the story of Jonah. Jonah goes to hell, but the Word of God also goes to hell with Jonah. When Jonah speaks the Word, or the Word speaks Jonah, the beast from the sea vomits Jonah up onto the dry land.
Jonah preaches the Word. And the polis of Nineveh is “overturned,” but not the way Jonah hoped it would be overturned; it is repented.
The fact that God “relented of the evil” was “extremely evil to Jonah;” and in the light of God’s presence, Jonah grew “angry (literally translated, “he burned”).
Jonah had been in Sheol: that’s Hades.
Now Jonah burns at the edge of God’s polis: that’s Gehenna.
God grows a plant for shade, then God sends a worm to kill the plant; and when Jonah grows even more “hot,” God speaks his Word:“You pity the plant… should I not pity Nineveh, in which there are more than 120,000 persons… and much cattle.”
The book ends where the story of the Prodigal Son ends, where the Parable of the Vineyard ends, where the Bible ends, just where I am—I’ve experienced grace, but struggle to be gracious.
Literally translated, the Lord says, “… should I not pity Nineveh, in which there are more than twelve myriad Adam who do not know their right hand from their left, and many beasts.” They do not know good from evil, and God calls them “Adam.”
“As in Adam all die, so also in Christ will all be made alive… the first Adam became a living soul, the last Adam became a life-giving Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 15:22,45)
“The Ninevites are Adam. Jonah, you are Adam. And I am Adam.”
Is this not the Word of God to Jonah?
“Jonah, I give myself up for all, that all might give themselves up for me. We are One, just as the Father and I are One. Jonah, the Kingdom of God is not partisan. It is an infinite number of things bound together as One by me—the Word of God, the logic of Love, the rhythm of the dance. The first are last and the last first, the humble exalted and the exalted humbled; everyone loses and all win in the great dance.”
“It’s not that some of you chose evil and some chose good; all of you chose evil in order that all of you could see the Good, and freely choose the Good who constantly chooses you—I am the Good, and you are my body.”
“It’s by dying and rising with me that you join the dance. I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I am the Word of God, the Logic of Love. Everything that’s anything is my choice. How could I be partisan?”
“Jonah, Israel, Christian, I chose you to be first at choosing to be last—that’s the first step in the great dance; you must lose your life to find it.”
“Israel, you have been blessed to be a blessing to all the nations—”the polis-es”—of the world. I’ve called you to call everyone to the dance.”
Jonah believed but still needed help with his unbelief. Why did the Ninevites believe?
I doubt it was anything Jonah said, but rather what Jonah was: a testimony of Grace, a sign.
Jesus turned to Peter and called him Simon Bar Jonah—Son of Jonah.
Peter denied Jesus, died with Jesus, rose with Jesus, and became a proclamation of Grace, like Jonah.
Like Jonah, in Joppa, Peter received a call to go to “the nations”—actually, a place worse than Nineveh.He went to a Roman centurion’s house in Caesarea, and in obedience to a heavenly vision, he sat at the table of Cornelius, drank from his cup, stood up and said, “Truly I now understand that God shows no partiality.” Then he testified to Jesus; he was “the spirit of prophesy” in an earthen vessel.
And that’s how the Word of God conquered the Roman Empire—the polis of Rome.
And that’s why the unknown man stepped off the sidewalk and let Desmond go first.
That’s why God is calling you to go to the house of someone who chose a different candidate than you, sit at their table, drink from their cup, and testify to Jesus.
That’s how the Kingdom comes, and his will is done on earth as it is in heaven.
The Word on your tongue can deliver people from hell, and even partisan politics.
God is not partisan.