Jonah – On the Run from God
Chapter 4 – Running Against God
Imagine with me if you will, that over the next few weeks and months, a city wide revival breaks out in Las Vegas. Everybody gets right with God, from the least to the greatest. Casinos get turned into churches. Strippers put on choir robes. Bar tenders now serve the Lord's Supper. Drug dealers become bus drivers to bring kids to church. Pornographers stand on the streets to hand out Bibles. Prostitutes become nursery workers. Thieves head up the benevolence ministry, and the schools are filled with prayer. All sex and cursing is removed from tv programs and movies. All the money generated from the illegal activities now abandoned is given to missions.
Wouldn't that be great? Wouldn't that get you excited? You might think, “It could never happen.” But it did. That's what happened in Nineveh. In chapter three, when the people of that city turned from their violence and evil ways, humbled themselves before God and fasted and pleaded for His mercy, God had compassion and mercy on them. Now you would think that would bring a response of joy from a prophet of God, from the evangelist who God used to start it all. But not Jonah. In chapter 4:1 it says that it made Jonah mad - very mad.
This is our last week in Jonah. I want to paint a picture of Jonah that I believe will help us to understand ourselves better - to help us understand what we look like and what God would want us to be like. To do that, let’s read chapter 4.
I have only two points to this message this morning. I get
them from the picture that I think God paints for us here. The picture is this:
Too often, our view of God is that He is
- too soft on some people
- too hard on us
And from that picture, God is rebuking us, He is shaking us up, He is trying to get us to see what He sees, to feel what He feels, to share His concerns.
Even a callous person has to shake his head over the way Jonah acts in this chapter. Jonah has a portrait of God that is so selfish. But before we wag our heads too quick, let's look at ourselves closely in the light of Scripture.
1. We think God is too soft on some people
Jonah's fear, sparking his anger and despair is that God is
tco oft on some people - amely the Ninevites. In 4:2 he says, “e complained
before the Lord, ‘Didn't I say before I left home that You would do this? That
is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you were a gracious and
compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. I knew how
easily You could cancel Your plans for destroying these people. Just kill me
You would think that words like that, “I knew You were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love,” would be spoken with joy and gratitude. But Jonah speaks them in anger! Why? Because He wants a limit on God's grace when it comes to some people. “That's too much God! Is there no justice?”
That's the kind of response that followed the reported conversion of Jeffrey Dahmer in prison - I have heard people say “No Way! If he is going to be there, then I don't want to be!” They don't want God to be gracious to him. That's grace gone too far. Isn't there any justice?
What if Adolph Hitler had fallen on the mercy of God before He died? What would your response be?
Why do we think that? Because we fail to see God's grace for what it is - totally undeserved by any of us - the opposite of what every one of us really deserve. Somehow, we tend to feel that we deserve God's grace more than certain people - and that just proves how little we really understand grace at all... And it shows how little we share the heart of God - the concerns of God.
You see, that is dangerously close to the attitude of the Pharisees when they saw how Jesus treated the tax collectors, prostitutes and other sinners. They thought Jesus had gone too far. What about justice? You can't just let them off the hook! And they missed God's grace.
How did you feel at the verdict of O.J. Simpson or when Bill Clinton got off easy. But remember, when it comes to our relationship with God, we won't want justice, but mercy. For all of us, justice will be served, but it will be because Jesus died on our behalf to satisfy the justice of God.
Romans 3:24-7 says, “Yet now God in His gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God's anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed His blood, sacrificing His life for us. God was being entirely fair and just when He did not punish those who sinned in former times. And He is entirely fair when He declares sinners to be right in His sight because they believe in Jesus. Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on our good deeds. It is based on our faith.”
2 Peter 3:9-11 – “He is patient toward you, not wanting anyone to perish, but for all to come to a
knowledge of the truth.”
What should get us upset is when someone doesn't get saved. We should be in turmoil when someone doesn't turn to the Lord.
This goes for an uncaring attitude as well, one that says ‘Our church is big enough. We don't need anymore people.” We need to pray, “God, fill your church with every jerk, bum, adulterer, thief, every wife abuser, every person who still needs you.” Don't say, “Us four, no more, bolt the door.”
2. We think God is too hard on us.
Jonah is quick to get upset over something that directly affects his own comfort, a plant next to his little temporary lean to shrivels up. And that makes him feel justified in the most absurd response. In fact when God scolds him, Jonah just gets further incensed. “God, your scolding the wrong person! God, get mad at those people in Nineveh. They are the bad ones. But NO - you want to be soft on them! I just spent days telling these people You were going to judge and destroy them, and now You aren't. I'm going to look bad.” In verse 4, God says, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?” Jonah thinks so. So God tries to reach him, to reach his heart. He uses a plant and a worm and a wind. And when Jonah gets upset over the loss of the shade from the plant and the wind that makes him uncomfortable, God asks him again in verse 9, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?” And Jonah says, “yes - even angry enough to die!”
That reminds me of another story. The story Jesus told of the Prodigal Son. At the end of that story, the elder brother gets his feelings hurt and gets upset because the father shows mercy and compassion and love on the repenting and returning son who had squandered the family money and ruined the family-name. And he felt that was inappropriate and unfair, after all, he had never gotten this kind of treatment - and he had been faithful and obedient to his father all along.
Obedience is not all that matters - in fact - it can be bad. God isn't interested in our obedience for the sake of obedience. He can just as well do without it. Obedience is for our good. But in the end, it is not what matters most. Jonah, under compulsion finally does God's will. He trudges off to Nineveh, preaches as he is told. He is obedient, but he is more miserable in his obedience than in his disobedience. In his disobedience, he feared death (2:7) and prayed for deliverance. But under the wilted vine, with Nineveh saved, in his obedience, Jonah longs for death (4:3). The old hymn says “Trust and obey, for there's no other way, to be happy in Jesus, than to trust and obey.” Jonah didn't write that song. He doesn't sing that song. Jonah hates that song !
Is God interested solely in our obedience? No. Obedience can actually harden us against Him. Obedience by itself can make our heart bitter and shallow and barren. What is God mostly interested in? Our heart ... our concerns. God says to Jonah, in verse 10, “You feel sorry about the plant, a dumb little plant. But I care about the city there in front of you, about 120,000 people there I created and love. Shouldn't I feel sorry for them?” And the implication is “and shouldn't you care about them too - instead of or more than your own comfort?”
How about you? What is your shade plant? How do you sometimes respond harshly and absurdly over relatively unimportant things? I'll share with you something. While I was working on this sermon, I checked up on how my Kentucky Wildcats were fairing. They are doing really well lately. They snuck into the top 25 lst week. We aren’t too far from March Madness – you know – the tournament time for college basketball. It’s a great time of the year. But for over ten years now, there is a sore spot during that time. You see, ESPN ALWAYS uses a certain flashback clip as part of the hype for the tournament. It just happens to be the worst moment in modern UK basketball history. It is when the UK Wildcats lost to Duke back in 1996 on that lame Christian Laetner shot turnaround shot at the buzzer. I don’t know if I have ever been as upset as I was at that moment. I could have torn my house apart I was so mad. And in reality it is ridiculous. Maybe you do that too. Over a game or when the stock market doesn't go your way or when someone else gets the promotion, or when Safeway is out of a sale item or when you can't find your keys or when you've had it with the kids or your spouse or when someone takes your seat at church or when we sing the songs you don't like or when - all minor inconveniences in the grand scope of eternity - and yet you get upset and think “Just kill me now Lord!” And God is shaking his head saying, “What's wrong with you? Why don't you get concerned over the things that concern Me?” Jonah's sense of what matters was terribly skewed, but then so is ours too often.
Conclusion: You see, what God is trying to teach Jonah, and trying to teach you and me is that our priorities are often way out of whack. He is trying to teach us that we are all too often selfish in our perspective and our actions. We don't have the heart of God, and God wants that to change. We dwell on the things of earth too much and not enough on the things of heaven – the things that really matter.
Video – “Break My Heart with the Things That BreakYours” (network/shared/scott/sermon videos)
God cares most about people ... all people. And you know something? All those He cares about are people He has every right to be angry with and to punish. But Romans 5:8-10 tells us that His concern and love run so deep that even while we were yet sinners, even enemies of God, God loved us so much that He sent His own Son to come to earth and to intercept the punishment we deserved and take it upon Himself. That is the heart of God. That is what God is concerned about. What about you?
The story of Jonah confirms a deep suspicion . . . that God will ask me to do the thing I least want to do for Him. Even deeper, it reveals that I don’t share the heart of God fully enough. What can change that? Only opening our heart and mind to God’s grace can do that. Only facing the cross and what it means for you can melt your heart of the coldness you feel to another and help you to care about them how God does. Only the cross can help you to stop being concerned with your own comfort above the needs of others.
What happened to Jonah? I would like to think that after the rebuke from God He repented and went into the city and celebrated with the people there - reconciled with them. But then I like Hallmark movies too. But maybe he just sat there and sulked and eventually died there a bitter man. The fact that he is never mentioned again in the Old Testament makes me think that he just stayed bitter and God couldn't use Him anymore.
What is your heart saying? God has over 8,500 people here in
the Estes Valley that He created and nurtures and loves - so much that He had
his Son die for them. And I know that He wants us to feel about them the way He
does. He wants me and you to have the love for them that would drive us to
share Jesus with them. He wants us to love them enough to have the courage to
overcome our prejudices and fears of those we don't like too well and to share
Jesus with them. God wants you and me to get over our petty grievances and to
get on with His business. When was the last time you witnessed to someone about
Jesus? I don't mean just by the way you live. That is important, but so are the
words. Without words, they won't know what to do or what it is that makes you
different. That's what God wants, and that's what I am praying for.
What will you pray for?