The Sign of the Prophet Jonah

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - The New Thing which is Old

We have already seen that Jonah's dilemma - purely a mental one - was the result of an innovation on the part of the Lord. Jehovah is here breaking into the life of Israel and sending Jonah out to minister to the heathen, the Gentiles. For this Jonah had no precedent, nothing like it had happened before. There had been many references made to the Gentiles, but nothing as to a direct saving ministry to them. The Gentiles were at this time locked up in a reign of death. Israel was locked up in tradition, formalism, declension, exclusiveness, and religious pride.

Nineveh was the most renowned city of heathendom then on the earth. There would be no meaning in preaching a coming judgment to the people of Nineveh if repentance and thereby salvation was not possible.

This all being so contrary to all that Jonah knew, would make him very careful for his reputation; to say nothing of the peril to Israel's interests that the saving of Nineveh would mean. He does not seem to have revolted from preaching the judgment, but from the mercy of God if they repented (Jonah 4:2). But what did this signify in the mind of God? Was God doing really a new thing? Was this something in the nature of a vagary or new idea with the Lord? No, surely not!

There is Nothing New with the Lord

He is always working backward to a plan fully outlined before the world was. Everything that is a new phase or aspect with us is only a step backward with Him to that "purpose which He purposed in Christ before the world was." Jonah, like all others of those ages, moved in the dark. According to the purity of their spirit, the measure of their faith, the completeness of their obedience, they sensed or had revealed to them that some great future development would complete and vindicate their life and work; they knew that they were not living for their own age only, but in those "other ages" the mystery was not made known, although so constantly intimated, suggested and prefigured.

If Jonah was the sign in the matter of death, burial, and resurrection, the issue is clearly seen to be "that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs" (Eph. 3:6).

Surely it is not difficult to see that with the resurrection of Christ of which Jonah was a type, the Church comes into view (John 12:24, etc).

Thus we see -

1. The Church's Constitution

"Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers: and that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy; as it is written, For this cause I will confess to thee among the Gentiles, and sing unto thy name. And again he saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with his people. And again, Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; and laud him, all ye people. And again, Esaias saith, There shall be a root of Jesse, and he that shall rise to reign over the Gentles, in him shall the Gentiles trust." - Romans 15:8-12.

"How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel; whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, in this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ." - Ephes. 3:3-9.

"Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: to whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory." - Col. 1:26,27.

The words of scripture speak for themselves, and little need be added. A glance at their context will make quite clear that the Church is constituted by resurrection union with the Lord Jesus.

What is of immediate concern to us here is that God must and will have His people and the full range of His testimony and glory. When Paul was in Corinth the whole situation was intensely difficult. The conditions set forth in Romans 3 are the actual local colourings of Corinth from where the letter to the Romans was written. The word of the Lord to Paul in the midst of such a setting was "I have much people in this city." It reminds us of the Master's words earlier. "Other sheep I have." The Lord had them before ever the Gospel was preached to them, before they had known anything about His salvation: He had them. In that "foreknowledge of God the Father". They were His, and "all that the Father hath given me shall come unto me"; even in Corinth, Rome, and so on. Thus we see that "Ephesian" truth, (if that is a right way of putting it) is implied in Jonah's commission outside of the limits of the Jewish covenant. This was the principle which so greatly provoked the Jews of Nazareth when the Lord told them that, while there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah the Prophet, it was to an outsider, a Sidonian widow alone that the prophet was sent; and while there were many lepers in Israel in the days of Elisha it was only Naaman, a Syrian - an outsider - who was healed. The sign of the Prophet Jonah then reaches on to embrace the nature of God's eternal purpose realised in resurrection, and the Church is the abiding shrine of that sign and testimony.

2. The Church's Power

The Lord Jesus within such as have become united with Him in the likeness of His death and resurrection, joining them into one spiritual body causes that body to persist in the power of a deathless life. This testimony must of necessity be a practical one, and therefore all the forces of death gather round to quench that life or submerge it, and "wheresoever the body is thither are the vultures gathered together" to devour. Many many times both corporately and individually it has seemed that there was "the sentence of death," and the Lord's people have "despaired of life," but although "cast down" they have not been "destroyed" for that which has been destroyed (Heb. 2:14) cannot destroy that which has destroyed it.

As a corporate whole, represented on earth by one united people, the world does not see the full meaning and measure of this testimony. It sees divisions, schisms, and internal conflicts and disagreements, but the miracle of the child of God persists, and in another realm of higher intelligences the testimony is recognised to the full (Eph. 3:10). There is little doubt but that - given spirituality - (that is, a fellowship in life with the Holy Spirit) the powers of death will exhaust themselves without success in the matter of the testimony of the Resurrection of Christ in His people. Viewed superficially there may often appear to be a triumph on their part. The merely human factors may entirely come to an end. The man or woman may "despair of life" in more ways than one. Understanding and sentient assurance may be totally eclipsed.

The individual's own victory may go, and on every count be termed defeat. But it is God's victory not ours, and it is not that He "causeth us to triumph" (this is an inaccurate translation) but He "leads us in the train of His triumph." Paul said this (2 Cor. 2:14) immediately after he had touched upon one of the periods of most questionable success in his life - from man's standpoint, of course. The Lord had the victory even while Paul seemed almost under.

The Lord already has His end, and it cannot be taken from Him, but the working out or working back to it is a tremendous business in which man is involved in a practical, active, co-operating way. The truth of the representative and inclusive resurrection of the Lord Jesus has to be wrought into the very being and life of the Church and its members.

3. The Ministry of the Church

Ministry comes by enlightenment, and doctrine only comes vitally through experience. Before Jonah could preach effectively to Nineveh he must be made the thing which he would preach.

The disciples had every fact concerning Christ which they were intended to preach from the moment of His ascension. But they did not have the inner spiritual meaning of those facts. Hence they had to spend the interval in prayer rather than preaching. Vital ministry is not just as to the great doctrinal facts of Christ, but the inner revelation of their meaning; and this comes by being "baptised into His death," and "raised together with Him." While there is an initial and crisic aspect of this, it is a thing which in principle operates continuously. The more this is entered into in experience the more effective does ministry become. The Church does not exist to be just a notification or expostulation of the great facts of the Person and work of Jesus Christ; but it is intended to be a representation and embodiment of the power and spiritual nature of those facts. It is not what is said but the influence emanating, and the irresistible force, not only over the minds and wills of men, but over the power of the devil.

It is the power of the Church, and the power of the Church is "the power of His resurrection."

The Nature of the Strength of the Church

Eph. 1:17-22; 3:16-19; Heb. 2:14.

"Since then the children are partakers of flesh and blood, He also Himself in like manner partook of the same, that through death He might bring to nought (nullify, destroy) him that had the power (marg. might) of death, that is the devil."

Here we have clearly stated the very object and reason of the incarnation, that His partaking - sharing - of flesh and blood was to destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil. It means that, God was not going to destroy the devil apart from flesh and blood; God would not as God destroy the devil, but He would as man destroy him.

This is the key and way into the Ephesian letter, and sums up the whole truth of the letter, and lets you into the deep truth: the building up of the Church which is His Body. This letter is filled with the building of the Church.

There are two main characteristics of the Church in its building up.

1. "that God... the Father may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him... that ye may know."

The Holy Spirit's strength is needed for knowing Him - the Lord Jesus; the Holy Spirit's strength is needed for knowing the Hope of His Calling and the glory of His inheritance in His saints.

2. "That He would grant you according to the riches of His glory that ye may be strengthened with power through His Spirit into the inner man... to the end that ye... may be filled into all the fullness of God."

The Holy Spirit is needed for energising, on the ground of spiritual revelation, unto all the fullness of God. The Holy Spirit and the strength of His Might is needed for illumination and for energising into that fullness.

Do we see that the building of the Church is going on by the super-surpassing power of God by His Spirit? The full force of the words here is tremendous, literally it is: "the all else excelling power of God's almightiness"; this is the energy, the force by which this building is going on; the Church, His Body as a whole is in view all through this letter, yet this which is spoken of the whole has got to be true of every member of that Body: and it will really only be fully true in the whole completed Church, for the fullness is to be and can only be realised by the Church - the Body of Christ.

When it is budded, then the all-excelling power of God's almightiness is brought into fullness of manifestation.

Note here, deeper than the letter of the word, but deep in the language of the Apostle is made manifest, that it is the same Power of God which increated faith in you. Faith is not only a grace it is a miracle; a miracle of God. Faith in us is the miracle of the resurrection, and our possessing faith, that faith which was wrought in Christ in the power of His resurrection; this is more than just "saving faith" as we say. But even simple faith unto salvation is not our own, of ourselves, it is the gift of God, and saving faith is a mighty thing, it has in it all the potentialities of that faith by which He raised the Lord Jesus from the dead.

Faith is the gift of God, and being the gift of God has in it the germ of the exceeding "greatness of His power... the strength of His might which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead" - raised Him from the abyss to the Throne by "the all else excelling power of God's almightiness."

And there is the tremendous emphasis on what the Lord must do in the Church; it is that the Church may receive from the Lord by the Holy Spirit a revelation of the calling, a revelation of Him, and then receive by the same Spirit a strengthening in all might into the inner man according to that working (inward energising) of the strength of His Might, which He wrought in Christ when He raised Him from the dead. In both cases it is to be an expression of the same exceeding greatness of His power, that was seen in the raising of the Lord Jesus from the dead; the all else excelling power of God's almightiness.

We must remember the Lord Jesus was not the first one to be raised from the dead; there was Lazarus; the widow's son, Jairus's daughter; and in the Old Testament times the Shunamite's son, and the man thrown into Elisha's sepulchre; these all rose from the dead, but had to go back again to the grave, it was only a temporary thing, and at length they had to surrender to death. But the raising from the dead of the Lord Jesus was other than that, when He rose something happened that made it impossible for death to have any more claim upon Him, and that something was the all excelling power of God's almightiness to destroy, bring to nought him that had the power of death.

Death and the Disintegration of the Creation

Right away at the beginning, when death entered through sin, everything broke up, chaos everywhere, disintegration, nay, more, decomposition: the very component character of creation was lost, fallen apart in death. Then came upon that a moving of God and out of it an ordered creation arose, the cosmos; then when sin again entered and death by sin, a further disruption, disintegration; all relationships break up by death.

Here is a body: while there is life it is held together by and under a controlling living head, all the separate members are brought into order and co-ordinate functioning in subjection to a government of life from the Head, making it one whole body: life passes out of that body, there is now no central controlling force, all organs cease to function, and there is disintegration - it has lost its life-controlling power. That's death in a body or a whole creation. There is one responsible for that; Satan achieved his object, which was to break creation away from its Headship, and get in between the government of life of the Head, and the Members. Death is separation of anything from its base of government and life. The cosmos demanded a head to hold it into ordered creation, by sin came severance from its government of life, and it fell into unrelated parts, into disintegration and decomposition. Man himself became a chaos, the earth ran riot and became chaos.

Christ Unifies a Disintegrated Creation in Himself as Head

It may have been in upsetting the order of the universe this earth as a planet fell out of the ordering of God and chaos was brought about through him who had the power of death.

The Lord Jesus comes into the chaos and takes the nature of flesh and blood and through death destroys him who had the power of death.

And God hath made this same Jesus Head over the Body, His new creation; and you have the new creation under its divinely appointed Head, and so a bringing about of spiritual order in the fullness of His power (Eph. 1:22-23). The Church is not just a congregation of units, the Church is a body with all its members and organs brought into a functioning relationship of co-ordination under the controlling life of its Head, partaking in that life and governed by that life. This new creation, this Church which is His Body is God's answer to what happened back in Genesis.

Now we begin to see what the Church really is, and what the Church is a product of and what the resource of the Church is.

At the beginning of the letter to the Ephesians you have manifested the nature of the Church, and at the end of the letter, the nature of the Church's warfare, it is the same conflict as away back in Genesis, but we are not up against it in the old creation, but against it in the strength of the New Adam, in the exceeding greatness of His might.

In the first part of the letter we get the first great statement by revelation of the Holy Spirit, of the Eternal Purpose and then the mighty energising by the same Spirit into that Purpose: and then shown the spiritual forces against that Purpose, seeking to bring about chaos and then in between, you have the Holy Spirit trying to tell you, that your daily affairs, relationships, daily duties, business concerns and all that touches your life from the kitchen to the study, in private life and public life are to be brought up into the heavenlies; for if the enemy can get into the common intimacies of daily living he will bring in disorder, chaos; he is out to bring about a break of relationship between the Sovereign Head and the Members and also seeks to create strain, and provocation between member and member.

Lift everything into the light of the Eternal Purpose, and there is nothing private, personal or isolated, it is in detail and as a whole related to the whole Body, and it is the one battle with the enemy. Don't regard the happenings in home or business on the level of the ordinary world system; bring all up into the light of the Eternal Purpose and when brought there, into all these things can be brought the operation of the greatness of His Power by which He raised Christ from the dead.

If we live our life down here on the ordinary system, the enemy will make an awful mess and there will be defeat. As the Lord's people we cannot live our life on the world's line of things even in the most ordinary connections, because of the strange forces of antagonism against us; we cannot meet with the ordinary resources, we need extraordinary resource with which to meet them.

Get a vision of the Holy Spirit to know the hope of His calling, and the riches of the glory of His inheritance and what the exceeding greatness of His power, and then get an energising accordingly by the same Spirit and bring that into the daily meeting of enemy's provocations, and creating strains, etc., meet all his activities and subtleties in that "all else exceeding power of God's almightiness."

It is not necessary for us to be down on the level of others in meeting things; or in resources; for the exceptional circumstances of our life there is the exceptional might of God.

We meet something those who are not the Lord's do not meet, but we need not be cast down or brought under by that, for to meet it we have the "all else exceeding power of God's almightiness."

Oh! we need to grasp this, for we are not yet there in our daily experience, sometimes we have a touch of it, but we need to live in it, and walk up and down in the strength, peace and victory of it; we need to bring it right alongside our daily life, and realise it for ourselves in our daily walk and experience.

We are part of the Church His Body, and so need to see by revelation of the Holy Spirit the hope of His calling and then be strengthened, energised by the all might of His Spirit in the inner man and so meet these forces in the might of His strength that hath already conquered.

Heb. 2:14: "Since then the children are partakers of flesh and blood He also Himself in like manner partook of the same that through death, He might bring to naught, nullify, him that had the power of death, that is the devil."

We have not grasped the tremendous truth of these words and laid hold of them and brought them down into our experience and related them to ourselves.

He did it, it was an act, He has done it, He will never again be flesh and blood; He took flesh and blood to bring to naught the devil, and through death destroyed him that had the power of death.

There is an inheritance to enter into, a victory over him that had the power of death. Eph. 6:10-12: "our wrestling is against Principalities and Powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in high places," but we are not wrestling with a doubtful issue, it is a wrestling energised by this increated faith which raised Christ from the dead that makes the Lord's won victory ours in experience; it is not fighting for a victory but fighting in a victory, appropriating His victory as we go along.

The Holy Spirit by this increated faith is bringing us back to a position, back to that Cross, when He shook off from Himself the hostile princes and rulers and boldly displayed them as His conquests when by the Cross He triumphed over them (Weymouth, Col. 2:15).

There is a point of faith in the child of God which brings him into a position of immunity as to whatever the devil can do; he can torture him, tear him asunder, persecute him, bring about his death; and bring about such darkness of seeming forsaking of God, yet there is a point of faith in the child of God, that he is not moved by all these things. This increated faith of the Holy Spirit is the strength of the might that raised Christ from the dead.

See all the workings of the enemy since the cross, as they really are; it is all camouflage, and the devil can only get an advantage in so far as we are faithless; when faith gets to a certain point the devil is powerless and impotent; this is the victory that overcomes him, this increated faith of the Holy Spirit.

The old dispensation was ever looking towards Calvary and in the new dispensation it is an ever looking back to the accomplished work at Calvary of the Lord Jesus, Son of God, Son of Man.

In keeping with T. Austin-Sparks' wishes that what was freely received should be freely given and not sold for profit, and that his messages be reproduced word for word, we ask if you choose to share these messages with others, to please respect his wishes and offer them freely - free of any changes, free of any charge (except necessary distribution costs) and with this statement included.