August 19, 2018
Jonah 4 – 8.19.18
What food do you most dislike and totally avoid? For the longest time in my life I avoided eggs. I inherited this from my father. He hated eating eggs-so growing up I hated eggs. My mother never made them anyway since my dad didn’t like them, so I never had to eat eggs very much-avoiding them was easy. But I’ll never forget on the first day of our honeymoon, Monica and I were staying at a B&B in Cape Cod and went down to breakfast in this quaint house-and there was an omelet. And it wasn’t an omelet filled with bacon and peppers and sausage and all sorts of things to block the flavor of the eggs-it was just plain egg. I swallowed it down the best I could-but I’m happy to say that over the years of our marriage I’ve learned to like eggs-and really enjoy omelets-my dislike is gone. In fact, Monica will say that over the course of our marriage she’s helped me to not only like eggs, but mushrooms, sauerkraut and Rueben sandwiches too. Maybe, hopefully, one day you’ll overcome your dislike of certain foods. Because that’s the idea we’re exploring this morning. Overcoming our dislikes and hatreds-if that’s possible. You might say-I can’t stand that particular food-no way-I’ll never eat it! But more than food-I want you to reflect on a place or certain people you really dislike going to and totally avoid. Because that’s where we find Jonah. It seems that he’s a changed man from chp 3.
I want to begin this morning by reviewing the life of Jonah as we’ve studied it so far. What do we know about Jonah? He was a man of disobedience-plain and simple. In fact, the story of Jonah is so powerful because his disobedience is hard to miss. God said go to the Nineveh, he went the opposite way. There’s no wiggling out of that one-or making excuses. Jonah can’t say-oops, I was mistaken, which way did you want me to go? Wow, I better start using a map or gps He flat out disobeyed God and then we see him spiraling further and further down into sin until he eventually lands in the belly of a fish which symbolizes death (sidenote-we went to the Natural History museum and saw that big whale–and contemplated where a person could fit). The story of Jonah is telling us that sin brings death. And so we have to put ourselves into Jonah’s shoes. His story isn’t just a Sunday school Bible story that we read and say-Interesting-a guy got stuck in a fish. We have to see the story of our own life in Jonah; that like him, you and I have disobeyed God and run from him. Obviously we haven’t been swallowed by a fish but our sin results in death-and not just physical death, but spiritual death-eternal separation from God. Jonah was cut off from the land of the living, he was alone, suffering in the darkness of the fish (that’s the part that intrigues me-how did he see, did he light a candle in there)-but that’s a vivid picture of death. So just as Jonah goes down into the ocean depths because of his sin, we’ve gone down to death because of our sin. But that’s where God intervenes-because of His grace Jonah rises up out of the fish to start over on the dry land. Jonah is pulled from the darkness of the fish to the light of the beach all because of God’s intervention. And the same is true for us. We’re given new life by God through Christ, not because of anything we have done but all because of His grace. He’s lifted us out of the darkness of sin into the light of His grace. Jonah’s story represents our salvation-dead in sin but lifted up and made alive by God. It’s a story of great disobedience ending in glorious restoration. That’s what we talked about last week-restoration. God gave Jonah a second chance-just like He does for us. So ask yourself the question what’s the miracle of the book? It’s not that the fish spit Jonah out-but that God chose to save such a rebellious, undeserving person-2:2-3; 6; 9.
And that’s the message of the entire book. Q1: What’s the miracle of the book? God saves undeserving people. And the “un” is the really important part. If you remember from Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter was having a tea party celebrating unbirthdays. And of course, Alice is baffled by the that. Why would you celebrate an unbirthday? It’s only a person’s actual birthday that’s special. But the same is true with God-we might be as equally baffled as Alice-Why would you save undeserving people? They’re nothing special but that’s the resounding message this book is laboring to show-as God saves undeserving Jonah and the undeserving Ninevites. But is that the resounding message of the church? Does the world hear the church proclaiming this truth; that God saves undeserving people? Does the world know this truth? Unfortunately, I don’t think it often does. All too often the world hears and believes the opposite message: that God saves deserving people. Remove the “un”, God saves those who’ve worked hard to clean themselves up and be religious. That God saves the good people but doesn’t want anything to do with the bad people. That’s what the world hears over and over but it’s not true. Here in this little book, there aren’t any good people-Jonah’s bad, the sailors are bad, the Ninevites are bad. This book is all about bad people encountering a good God. And yet it takes a while for Jonah to understand this-just like it takes us a while to understand it today.
So let me ask the second question: When God called Jonah to go to Nineveh he ran the other way. Q2: Why do you think Jonah disobeyed? Often the first thought that comes to mind is fear. We think-Poor Jonah, God called him to go preach to this big, mean, scary city-I wouldn’t have done it either! I’d be petrified, shaking in my boots! No wonder he ran away. But if you carefully read the book never reveals fear as his motive. Jonah never expressed any timidity or fright; in fact, Jonah seems to be a rather bold individual. Look at 1:10. How about that for boldness-Hey guys, you’re in this giant thunderstorm, about to die, because of me. I’m the reason. That takes guts-I would have said something like-How about that thunderstorm, sure is something, isn’t it? Well, what to do. But Jonah just mans up-Throw me overboard! He’s not a fearful guy at all so why the disobedience? Jonah’s motive has everything to do with bitterness and hatred. Jonah knew that Nineveh was a wicked, sinful place. His opinion was wipe ‘em out! He’d like to see Nineveh, the enemy of Israel, get what they’ve got coming to them. So why doesn’t he want to go preach to them? It’s a very interesting question because what was God telling Jonah to preach-1:2 He was going to preach judgment; to point out their sin; to tell them like it is.
And in the end, that’s what he did. Look at 3:1-4. That’s certainly not a happy, upbeat message. Jonah isn’t preaching a nice motivational speech. This is classic fire and brimstone. Your days almost over-the end is coming-God’s wrath is on the horizon. And notice how no reason is given to them for their destruction-it’s just judgment’s coming. But Nineveh didn’t need a reason-they knew their own evil and cruelty all too well. Look at how it’s described-Nahum 3:1-3. That’s a bad, bad place-not at all deserving forgiveness. Maybe you’re reminded of some of the world’s cities today-the violence of Baghdad or Kabul in the Middle East, the reputation of the red-light district in Amsterdam, maybe you even think of various cities in the US that are known as dangerous or filled with crime. Think back to Sodom and Gomorrah-two Biblical cities very similar to Nineveh. In Gen 18 God said to Abraham, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is great and their sin is very grave.” And we remember that they got the punishment they deserved-even despite God’s gracious words, saying that he would spare these two wicked cities if 10 righteous people were found. But there wasn’t. Not even 10 godly people anywhere-so the city was destroyed. And Jonah wants Nineveh to suffer the same fate-and to be fair it should. This is a city, a group of people, that has slaughtered their fellow human beings, they’ve acted in sinful ways, and above all offended God. As He says to Jonah, “their evil has come up before me.” God’s saying-I know about the Ninevites. Their wickedness has risen above everyone else, it’s floated up to the surface, it’s so horrendous I can smell the stink from heaven. This week our side room of the house was filled with shoes and flip-flops of the kids and adults-and after a day walking around in the city everyone took their shoes off and the entire room stunk horribly! We had to shut the door so it wouldn’t stink up the rest of the house. But that’s what God is saying about Nineveh. Its evil stunk so bad it was time for judgment.
Again, this is precisely the message Jonah would like the Ninevites to hear, the fate he hopes they meet. So why didn’t Jonah obey? Why did Jonah refuse this message the first time? The answer is found in the last chapter of the book-4:1. What displeased Jonah so much? 3:10. That right there didn’t make Jonah praise God, it made Jonah angry with God. In Hebrew, chapter 4 is using the strongest language possible to express how he feels about this. It literally reads-it was evil to Jonah as a great wrong. And look at his follow-up complaint to God-4:2. This isn’t praise, it’s a complaint! As if that’s the worst thing ever! So Q2: Why do you think Jonah disobeyed? He felt the Ninevites didn’t deserve God’s mercy. He knew God’s character. He knew that God is gracious and loving and merciful and he didn’t want the Ninevites to hear that message or have a second chance. Now I’ve heard of people complaining to God because things didn’t work out the way we wanted-but have you ever been furious because He’s patient and abounds in steadfast love? Have you ever shaken your fist at God because He gives second chances? The irony here is unbelievable! He’s mad at God for good things. It sounds foolish but consider Jonah’s thought process. Okay God, you love me. I’m saved-but there’s no way you love the Ninevites, no way you’re going to save those people. And what’s Jonah really saying? I deserve salvation, but those people don’t deserve it. Jonah’s buying into the idea that God only saves the good, deserving people. I said that little “un”, those two letters, are really important. Jonah neither believes nor desires the Ninevites to be saved. He doesn’t want God to show them any mercy or any patience because in his eyes they don’t deserve it. They’re too wicked and sinful and he doesn’t like them. And we can all agree that the Ninevites are sinful, but is Jonah any better? That’s the real question; that’s what this book is laboring to show. At the start, Jonah certainly believes he’s better. He could say he’s an Israelite, he’s one of God’s people, he’s a prophet, he’s in full-time ministry. Maybe Jonah would even boast about his morals and good Jewish upbringing. He’s got everything going for him-except one crucial thing-his heart. Jonah doesn’t have a heart for the lost. Or if he does, his definition of the lost is far too narrow-I’m happy to reach out to decent, good people like me Lord, but don’t have me preach to bad sinners; I’m not spending time with people like that; they don’t deserve it. But that means Jonah’s heart is far from the Lord and that He doesn’t get it. Because what is the Lord’s heart? Look back to Jonah’s own words in-4:2b. Jonah seems to be abounding in bitterness, not steadfast love.
So here’s the convicting part-what about you and me? Do we have a disgust and disdain for people around us? Put yourself in Jonah’s shoes do you run from the people God wants you to reach out to? Do you try to ignore the people God wants you to bless? What keeps you from wanting to engage and connect with others? Oftentimes as the church, we fear that we’re going to be tainted by the world like it’s the flu and its sin will infect us. We think-If I go to those people, if I try to love people like that, then all their sin and filth and bad habits will rub off on me. In the NT-that was the Pharisees accusation to Jesus-Luke 5:29-30. They weren’t really looking for the answer, they were just wanting to remain hidden behind all their religion and moral goodness. I’m sorry Jesus, we don’t spend time with people like that. We don’t like them. It’s exactly the attitude of Jonah-I don’t like Nineveh and its people-they’re wicked and sinful and they disgust me. I will not go. Reminds me of Dr. Seuss. Do you remember him-the Ham guy? “I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them, Sam, I am.” Utter disgust! This was one of my favorite books my dad would read to me when I was little. But it goes on and on. “I do not like them in a box, I do not like them with a fox, I do not like them in a house, I do not like them with a mouse.” He’s totally unwilling to try them. And I’ll be honest, I agree with him-green eggs and ham sound disgusting and unsafe-I’m not sure what this book is promoting! But back to our opening question of food that we dislike and totally avoid, do we act the same way with people? Do we exhibit this same unwillingness with the world? I do not like those kinds of people-not at all! And before we know it, as the church we hide behind our Christian walls and display the same kind of attitude as Jonah-disdain and disgust for the world. But that’s not what God desires. What was Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees-Luke 5:31-32. Undeserving sinners are the very people Jesus connected with, and that’s who we need to connect with too. In fact, you may not have caught it-but Levi was the one throwing this dinner party for tax-collectors-and who was Levi? A converted tax-collector who understood the gospel and now wanted to reach out to others.
And if we back up in Jonah’s life-I think that was the same reason why he decided to obey the second time. We’ll examine his double-standard more next week but for now Q3:Why did Jonah obey the second time? He finally understood the gospel. It took his disobedience and a whole string of bad consequences to force Jonah to look inside his own heart. And he realized that he was no different than the Ninevites. After sloshing around inside the fish Jonah recognized that he was also stuck in his sin, deserving God’s punishment. He knew that being tossed overboard was the right thing-and only by God’s mercy was he spared. Jonah realized that the gospel is actually the opposite of the message he thought it was. The gospel isn’t God saving deserving people; the gospel is that God saves undeserving people. We cannot miss that-everything rides upon this truth. Jonah realizes it includes the Ninevites, and after coming out of the fish, he realizes-oh yeah, it includes me too. God was really gracious to save a wretch like me! At the end of chap 2-Salvation belongs to the Lord-he was rediscovering the truth and wonder of the gospel; that salvation is nothing we’ve done to earn or deserve, it’s all based on the love and grace of God-and that’s the miracle of the book-the gospel of undeserved, but desperately needed grace.
And that gospel message is woven throughout the Bible. All sorts of undeserving people are saved by a gracious God-think about Abraham-a guy who had an affair in order to disobey God’s plan, Jacob-who lied and cheated everybody, Moses-who was a murderer, Rahab-a prostitute, David who also had an affair and killed the husband, Levi and Zaccheus-dishonest tax-collectors stealing from people, and Peter-who denied the Lord at his greatest hour. All undeserving people.
And then there’s Paul. He was also a murderer, a killer of Christians-and what did God do in his life- 1 Tim 1:12. Just like Jonah, God was going to use Paul to preach the gospel. But who was Paul- 1 Tim 1:13-16. Isn’t that incredible! God was saving the worst of sinners in order to show that the gospel is about that very thing-saving undeserving sinners! Paul, Jonah, the Ninevites-even you and me. Too many people think the Bible is about good guys and bad guys-as we said. But the Bible isn’t divided like that-there’s not good guys and bad guys-as we’ve seen in the story of Jonah there’s only bad guys and God-and what did He do but send His Son Jesus. There’s only one person who actually deserves anything, only one who did it all right-and that’s Him Mark 1:11. God never said that about anybody else because we’ve all sinned. Not Jonah, not Abraham or Moses or David or Paul, not even you or me. But that’s where the gospel is so good! As you trust in Jesus for salvation, God justifies you on the basis of Jesus’ righteous life and sacrifice, His righteousness is attributed to you by faith-so that God the Father looks down on you with favor because you’re in Christ. Listen to Rom 8:1 Jonah doesn’t have to suffer the condemnation of his disobedience, the Ninevites don’t have suffer the condemnation they deserved, Paul didn’t have to face the condemnation he deserved as “the worst of sinners”-and that means you and I don’t have to face the condemnation we deserve either. The gospel is about getting what you don’t deserve, but desperately need in Jesus.
So the final question is: Q4:Do you understand the gospel? This is really important because first of all, it’s about salvation. Don’t miss that. The gospel says that Jesus will pay for your sins so you don’t have to. If you try to pay for your sins yourself it will take an eternity to do it. God’s punishment is real-and it exists for sinners. Jonah got a good taste of that punishment sloshing around inside the fish. But Jesus has come to earth and taken your punishment when He hung on the Cross. So have you trusted in Him? You’re not saved because you died and deserve heaven. -too many people think that way. That heaven is just automatic after death. No one deserves heaven except Jesus-and those who are in Him, believing in Him. Salvation belongs to the Lord.
And that’s the second reason why a correct understanding of the gospel is important because it brings humility. At the end of the day you have to realize that you’re a sinner saved by sheer grace? That’s not necessarily a pleasant thing to conclude about yourself, but it’s the truth. Now I’ll be honest, it’s really tempting for our pride to say, “God saved me because I…” How would you answer that question? Because I come from a good family, because I’m a diligent churchgoer, because I read my Bible, because I work really hard at loving and serving others, because I’m a good person.” But if you answer that question with “I” then you’re really saying God saved you because you deserve it-and that negates the gospel-the very thing Jonah has been trying to show us. The gospel cuts right through our pride-it renders us completely helpless before God and forces us to recognize the truth-God saved me-not because of me at all-but because of His grace. That was Jonah’s story-and it’s our story too. The gospel puts a helpless sinner-like you and me-into the loving, merciful hands of the Savior-which is awesome. It’s all about Him-and His love for you.
And that brings us to the last reason why a correct understanding of the gospel is important. It brings compassion. If Jonah had understood the gospel correctly he wouldn’t have reacted with such hostility and superiority towards Nineveh. But when he realized that he isn’t superior to them but in the exactly the same-then compassion kicks in. The gospel makes Jonah say to Nineveh-God’s mercy saved me-and God’s mercy will save you too. But leaning upon his good works only leads to spiritual superiority-to the idea “I deserve being saved but you don’t.” And that’s often the attitude of the church-we’re the good people and the rest of the world are all the bad people. And there’s no compassion. Have you found yourself adopting this kind of attitude? Resting upon your good works and forgetting God’s grace? Do you evaluate people based upon their goodness or efforts and think-they deserve saving but they don’t. Do you avoid those people or think that God’s blessings are just for you because you deserve them?
Back when I was young (8 or 9 yrs old) I entered a GI Joe contest and won the grand prize. Initially I didn’t know what the prize was and one afternoon as the neighbor boy was over to play the UPS truck arrived. The moment had finally come-the delivery man brought in box after box of toys. I can still picture it. I got airplanes and helicopters and jeeps and action figures, even the big GI Joe headquarters! Our eyes grew huge as my friend and I saw all these toys brought in. I had the whole army-every boy’s dream come true! So what did I say to my friend? Hey, let’s play with all this stuff I’ve been given! No-I told him that I had a lot of new toys that I needed to play with, so he’d have to go home. I sent him away! I didn’t share with him or include him! I hadn’t done anything to deserve the toys-I had just entered a mail-in contest and received the good fortune of my name being chosen as the winner. I had totally forgotten about the gracious blessing I was given and adopted the attitude that it was all for me-not him or anyone else. No compassion! And unfortunately, that’s what we do with the gospel. It’s for me-we think to ourselves-not for you. As if we somehow deserved it. Have you found yourself ruling people out, judging other people or thinking they don’t deserve God’s blessing? That they’ve forfeited their chance or made too many mistakes or that God just wouldn’t save someone like that. I think we all have people we view that way. But when you forget grace you lose compassion. Have you found yourself adopting Jonah’s attitude? God I thank you for my salvation and I can’t wait until those other people get what’s coming to them. Who have you failed to show compassion to? Who have you ruled out as unworthy of God’s grace? Who have you avoided and not reached out to? The gospel isn’t for certain people, the gospel isn’t for certain churches, the gospel is for sinners. The gospel is for those who know they need it and realize that Jesus is their only answer. The gospel is about a God who loves to show grace and forgiveness and rescues us when we’re drowning. Never forget how necessary His grace was in your life so that you won’t forget how necessary it is in the lives of others. It’s easy to feel superior; it’s easy to be apathetic or insensitive, to grow cold and callous; it’s easy to want people to get what they deserve. But may you never forget that God has given you what you don’t deserve (salvation) because Jesus bore what He didn’t deserve (our punishment). In the light of Christ, may we find the humility and compassion we need to speak of the good news-that God is 4:2b-and might that cause our lives to rewrite what it says in v. 1-not that it displeases us exceedingly, but that it amazes us exceedingly and we pour out our praise for a God like this!