Scripture: Jonah 4
Everyone loves a happy ending. Sometimes we even expect it. A little girl came home one day from school excited, because she had just learned the story of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” She was bursting with anticipation to tell the story to her mother. She began, and when she reached the part where the prince kisses Snow White and she awakened from her deep sleep, the little girl said, “Mother, do you know what happened then?” The mother said, “Of course dear. They lived happily ever after.” The little girl said, “Oh no, that isn’t what happened. They got married!” It would have been great if the story of Jonah ended at chapter 3, but it doesn’t. The last chapter of Jonah is chapter 4. The first word of chapter 4 begins with the word that got Jonah in trouble, and the word that gets us into trouble. Chapter 4 begins, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.” What displeased Jonah? The fact that God spared the people of Ninevah. The reason why Jonah was displeased and was angry was because he didn’t really love the people of Ninevah. I’m sure there were other people that Jonah loved, his family members, close friends, others who were of Jewish descent. When it came to the people of Ninevah however, they were outside of his circle of concern. The problem that Jonah had is something that often plagues us – our circle of concern is too small. We care about our own family, our own little group of friends, but when it comes to showing love to others outside that circle we fall short. So based on this passage this morning, there are at least three things that will be true of you when you really love people.
First of all, when you really love people, you’ll be joyful over God’s love. Jonah here in chapter 4 is angry because God showed love to the people of Ninevah. Rather than pouring his judgment upon them, God granted them mercy. Jonah was fit to be tied. Now before you are too hard on Jonah, is there ever a time you can remember that you were angry, jealous or bitter that something good happened to someone you didn’t like? One pastor said he had considered writing a book with the title, “Why Do Good Things Happen to People I Don’t Like?” Ninevah was the capital city of Assyria. Assyria was an enemy nation to Israel. Ninevah represented all that was pagan, wicked and evil. The people of Ninevah were on the other side of all that the people of Israel held dear. So Jonah gets upset with God when he blesses them. The problem here is that Jonah is so blinded by his religious and national zeal that he has no love for the people of Ninevah. To him they are just pawns on a political chessboard, they are a threat to the nation of Israel, and it would better off if they were all dead. Jonah 4:2 says, And he prayed to the Lord and said, “O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. In other words, Jonah is saying, “I can understand how God loves me. I am a Jew. I am a prophet. I’ve lived a good life, but how in the world can God love them?” The Biblical truth is that God loves everyone equally. He doesn’t love you and your group any more than everyone else, and he doesn’t love you less. The story of Jonah is that God prefers mercy over wrath. He prefers forgiveness over punishment. He prefers grace over judgment. God loves everyone, including the Ninevites. God doesn’t just love people like you, he loves people who are very different than you, even people who do things that you don’t like or don’t understand. Listen to what one theologian by the name of William Law wrote years ago, “We may take it for a certain rule that the more the divine nature of the life of Jesus is manifest in us, and the higher our sense of righteousness and virtue, the more we shall pity and love those who are suffering from the blindness, disease and death of sin. The sight of such people then, instead of raising in us holy contempt or holier-than-thou indignation, will rather fill us with such tenderness and compassion as when we see the miseries of a dread disease.” What Jonah is really showing here is that in some ways, he was farther away from God than the people of Ninevah. Jonah also had quickly forgotten that the only reason he was still alive was because of God’s mercy. The people of Ninevah didn’t deserve to live, but Jonah didn’t deserve to live either. God would have been justified in allowing him to drown after being thrown overboard. Jonah’s memory is short, and as a result not only is he angry about Ninevah, but he also feels sorry for himself. In verses 3-4 Jonah continues his prayer, “Just kill me now, Lord! I’d rather be dead than alive if what I predicted will not happen.” The Lord replied, “Is it right for you to be angry about this?” Jonah is in a royal snit, and God asks him, “Are you sure you’re right to feel this way?” In Jonah’s day, the truth was that God loved the Assyrian people as much as he loved the Jewish people. In our day, God loves the Muslim as much as he loves the Methodist. He loves the Buddhist as much as he loves the Baptist. He loves the pagan as much as he loves the Presbyterian. When we really love people, we will rejoice over that truth rather than lamenting it, as Jonah did. When you really love people, you’ll be joyful over God’s love.
Then, when you really love people, you’ll be grateful for God’s grace. Verses 5-6 of our passage continue, “Then Jonah went out to the east side of the city and made a shelter to sit under as he waited to see what would happen to the city. And the Lord God arranged for a leafy plant to grow there, and soon it spread its broad leaves over Jonah’s head, shading him from the sun. This eased his discomfort, and Jonah was very grateful for the plant.” Mr. Pouting Prophet is now sitting outside the city, in the blazing hot sun, still hoping that God will zap the city. This area is about the same location as modern day Iraq, so the temperature during the day is around 120 degrees. Once again, God gives Jonah something he doesn’t deserve – shade. All Jonah deserved here was a bad sunburn and clothes that were drenched in sweat. JJonah was happy about the plant that provided the shade, but he still just sits there, waiting for God to destroy the city of Ninevah. Jonah still doesn’t get it. There are many times in life when you and I are the same way – we just don’t get it. God’s showing love and mercy is fine, if he wants to do it, but we’ll just hold to our grudge, thank you very much. God is trying to teach Jonah, but Jonah is being a very poor student. So God tries something else. Verses 7-10 say, “But God also arranged for a worm! The next morning at dawn the worm ate through the stem of the plant so that it withered away. And as the sun grew hot, God arranged for a scorching east wind to blow on Jonah. The sun beat down on his head until he grew faint and wished to die. “Death is certainly better than living like this!” he exclaimed. Then God said to Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry because the plant died?” “Yes,” Jonah retorted, “even angry enough to die!” Then the Lord said, “You feel sorry about the plant, though you did nothing to put it there. It came quickly and died quickly.” I don’t know about you, but I see that Jonah has anger issues. You may smile when you hear about them, probably because there is a lot of Jonah in you. There is certainly a lot of Jonah in me. The tragedy here is that Jonah was more concerned about a plant than he was about people. He was more concerned about shade than he was about souls. He had more passion about material things than he did about spiritual things. How would you respond if someone wearing Goth clothing came into the church and sat in your pew? And what if he or she begin singing the songs with you and spoke to you during the fellowship time and said how nice it was to worship the Lord with you? What would you say? What would you do? Would you be able to move past the Gothic outward appearance, or would it stop you cold? Jesus died for that individual as much as he died for you. He delights in showing grace to that individual as much as he delights in showing grace to you. When you really love people, you’ll be grateful for God’s grace.
Then, when you really love people, you’ll be mindful of God’s salvation. Only two books of the Bible close with a question, Nahum and Jonah. Jonah 4:11 says, But Nineveh has more than 120,000 people living in spiritual darkness, not to mention all the animals. Shouldn’t I feel sorry for such a great city?” We don’t read of Jonah answering the question, because Jonah knew the answer. We know the answer as well. God basically says to Jonah, “You are so concerned that the people of Ninevah didn’t get what they deserved that you’ve forgotten you didn’t get what you deserved.” God chose to save them. God chose to save you, if you’ve surrendered your life to the call of Jesus Christ to follow him. Today you can worship many gods. You can worship another person, you can worship money or pleasure. You can worship sports, success or even yourself. There is only God who will save you, and he is the one true God. God doesn’t want anyone to get what they deserve. That’s why he sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross and then raised him back to life on the third day. Most of us have been very much aware of what is happening in Syria the past couple of weeks. We’ve seen the pictures of warships gathering over there, we’ve heard the saber rattling of the United States, of Russia, and of others. We see the world getting worse and worse, morals declining, with massive changes taking place, many of them not for the better. We may wonder why the Lord Jesus hasn’t already – what’s the delay? The conditions are already set for his coming – why is he waiting? “I wish the Lord would just come and straighten out this old sinful planet.” There is a very good reason why the Lord Jesus hasn’t yet returned. Listen to 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord isn’t really being slow about his promise, as some people think. No, he is being patient for your sake. He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.” Why hasn’t the Lord already returned to set all the nations of the world straight? Because he wants to save them. 1 Timothy 2:3-4 also says, “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
How much of what really concerns God concerns you? The answer to that question is a very good indicator of your spirituality. Too often the things over which we obsess are not things on God’s heart. We often fret about church, about how we worship in church or what is happening inside the church or how things about the church are being managed. Then when we leave church in a few minutes we may go to a restaurant and sit down, then nick pick and complain with the waitress about how our food is not as hot as we would like and how things are just the way they should be to suit us. Then we have the audacity not to leave little or nothing in the way of a tip. All of this time what is on God’s heart? Ninevah. God really loves the people here, and he loves the people there. If we’re not communicating to people that we love them as God loves them, then we are missing something very important, something that Jonah missed as well. Where is your heart?
Bob Pierce of World Vision has said, “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.” It was his prayer, may it be your prayer as well.