Jonah “Consumed by a Plant” Jonah 4 (part 2). Pastor Jim Erwin.
August 26, 2018
Jonah 4 – part 2 – 8.26.18
I want to begin our time by talking about bad endings. Have you ever sat through a movie, riveted by the characters and the story-but then shocked when the credits started to roll? What? That was the ending?! You’re stunned and unable to move for a moment as you’re trying to process it. Did I sit through that movie for that? You’re left hanging in disbelief. I remember thinking this about the movie Castaway. And I saw this in the theater when it came out back in 2000-but with our VBS theme this summer being Shipwrecked I recently rewatched it. Tom Hanks puts on an incredible performance for the entire film with just himself and a volleyball. It was a great piece of filmmaking, he was nominated for an Oscar-but then the ending comes. Thankfully he gets rescued from the island but then he doesn’t get back together with the love of his life. Since he was stranded on the island for over 4 years she had to move on and marry someone else. So there’s this tearjerker scene in the rain when he visits her, and says-I lost her all over again. I’m so sad I don’t have her. I guess I’ll just keep breathing. Talk about a downer. I remember thinking the first time I saw it-That’s how this ends? He’s rescued but doesn’t get to marry her? Plus we never get to find out what was in the FedEx package. He delivers it to the farmhouse but the box is never opened! I kept thinking, why did the director end it this way? Such a great movie-what a bad ending! Or at least a tragic ending. Obviously, you might think more famously of the tragic ending of Romeo and Juliet, where they both die-or even Titanic where you know it’s not going to end well because the ship is going to sink.
Well this morning we’ve come to the ending of Jonah-and so far it’s been a riveting story that certainly started badly-but now seems to be heading in the right direction. God called this guy Jonah to do something unheard of-which is preach repentance to one of the most wicked cities in the world. Jonah was the only prophet called to go to a pagan, Gentile nation. Of course, he doesn’t-he runs away-and then something really unthinkable happens-he gets tossed overboard and swallowed by a fish. Which I think some really daring Bible scholar ought to attempt this-to try and get swallowed by a fish to prove the story of Jonah could actually happen. The guy could take a video camera inside the fish with him, film it for 3 days. That would make Shark Week on Discovery Channel seem rather tame by comparison. But we all know Jonah is miraculously saved by God from inside the fish-even if it is on a wave of vomit. And so his life is totally turned around, Jonah’s a whole new man as he obeys God and goes into Nineveh-and in an even greater miracle than the fish, the wicked people repent and believe God. There’s a massive revival and turnaround in the city. So it’s an occasion of great celebration and rejoicing-both with Jonah’s obedience and the Ninevites. As we said last week-God graciously saves people who don’t deserve it. Jonah got a second chance and the Ninevites were spared destruction-the story couldn’t end any better and I wish chapter 3 was the end. Look at what it says-3:10. And what would you assume would come next? Probably a chapter that said Jonah was amazed by all that God did; that Jonah spent time praising God-Wow, Lord, your plans are incredible-I stand in awe and how you’ve changed these people hearts! We expect to read that Jonah was humbled for being used by God in such a privileged way. That Jonah spent time teaching and discipling the Ninevites-and eventually returned home to Israel telling them about God’s amazing grace and they all lived happily ever after. That’s what we expect would happen.
But that’s not what happens at all. That’s not the ending. As we saw last week-4:1. You have to do a double-take to make sure you read it right. He isn’t happy at all. Jonah isn’t grateful or amazed or excited. He’s really, really, really grumpy and upset. Why? As we explored last week-Jonah’s angry about God’s grace. Now Jonah seemed okay to receive God’s grace in chapter 2 when he was rescued from the fish. But now that the grace is for someone else-he’s not happy. Here’s a great lesson in how not to pray-v. 2-3. Jonah is so mad about grace that he just wants God to end it all for him. Kill me now, Lord, I’ve had enough! He’s seriously disturbed here. I said this was a bad ending but Jonah thinks-I did all this preaching, God, and I don’t get to see any fire and brimstone? No destruction or suffering? Not good-I didn’t want those people saved, I wanted them destroyed. I didn’t sign up for grace-I signed up for disaster and payback! Those wicked people need to be taught a lesson, not shown mercy and spared punishment! This is Jonah’s gut reaction, his feelings coming out-Why did you relent from disaster, God, and save these people? He’s full of resentment and rage. Sure Jonah obeyed God and preached to Nineveh- but his heart is so far from God’s heart at this point. Why bother to obey with his actions on the outside when his heart is so full of bitterness and hatred on the inside? That’s what’s happening here. And maybe you’ve wrestled with that before in your life-I know I have. Seemingly doing the good and godly thing on the outside-but having this huge conflict of frustration and bitterness on the inside. It’s not a good place to be-as Jonah can attest. So in the remainder of the book, God is going to confront Jonah’s heart. He’s going to force Jonah to examine his priorities and expose his double-standard-and it will force us to do the same.
So look at God’s follow-up question. It’s very insightful-4:4. I like how the NIV translates it, “Do you have any right to be angry?” What do you think Jonah’s answer is at this point? The text doesn’t tell us but we can guess-I have every right to be angry, God. The Ninevites are wicked, evil people. They’re my enemies, I wish they were dead. From Jonah’s perspective, there’s been failed justice. He expected Nineveh to get what it deserved and instead God showed them mercy which they didn’t deserve. No doubt he thinks God was too easy on them, or that God’s mercy was a sign of weakness. So his expectation of justice was not met and that’s what makes him angry. God, you didn’t do what I think you should have done! And that’s what his body language reveals-v.5. So here’s a picture of Jonah-pouting pic. Haven’t we all seen kids pouting like this. Who was a good pouter growing up? Who’s still a good pouter? And maybe when you’re pouting you don’t say anything-but with arms crossed and a frown on your face you’re declaring to all the world-I’m not happy! When you’re pouting your attitude is very evident by the look on your face and that’s Jonah-in great anger as he’s waiting to see what would happen to Nineveh.
Now, this is rather interesting because chp 3 already told us that God didn’t bring destruction and in chp 4 Jonah is accusing God of not destroying the city-so what’s he hoping to see? It seems that Jonah is still hoping God will bring judgment, that the Ninevites will realize their repentance was a mistake, just a temporary thing and they’ll turn back to their wicked ways. I think in some strange way Jonah is hoping his little temper tantrum has talked God into destroying them; that somehow his outburst of emotion has convinced God to see things his way. What I just told you makes sense, Lord. You should wipe these people out-that’s how I see it, and you ought to see it that way too. And haven’t you thought that way too-that somehow through your powerful or earnest emotions you can convince God to do something. I don’t know why we think like that-but often we believe that if we’re really earnest or convinced of something or really passionate about it then God will see it our way and do what we want. Of course, He won’t-He’s God and we’re not. I like what one Bible commentator said-God is not in debt to us to do anything. He cannot be tamed on the leash of our expectations. But that’s Jonah-trying to keep God on the leash of his expectations so he’s pulled up a front row seat to watch God change His mind and destroy Nineveh. It’s like Jonah’s sitting courtside with a hot dog and nachos to watch his hated team get nuked. I’ll sit here, Lord, until you do what I say! And in those regions, the sun is extremely hot-like being on the beach without an umbrella to sit under-so the text says he built a little shelter in the shade. Apparently, Jonah’s going to camp out awhile to see the destruction-he’s going to sit here and really relish in their misery. And let me pause and ask if you’ve been there before, waiting for someone to get what you think they have coming to them? That like Jonah you’ve forgotten all about the grace God has shown you-and you’re just after savoring someone’s else punishment-or you think God at least needs to tighten down the screws in their life until they feel a little pain for what they’ve done. But the irony is that God’s going to tighten down the screws on Jonah-because he’s the one who needs to learn the lesson.
So look at-v. 6a. Once again we see God’s sovereignty. And I just want you to notice how God has been in control throughout the entire book-1:4; 1:17; 2:10 and here with this fast-growing plant. Now the Bible doesn’t tell us what kind of plant it is. Some scholars think it was a castor oil plant or maybe a gourd, others think it was a leafy shrub and in the 4th century, the great theologians Augustine and Jerome argued about whether it was ivy or a cucumber vine. Now I doubt it was a cucumber because Jonah would have had something rather refreshing to eat in the hot sun and wouldn’t have been so grouchy. John Calvin summarizes it well by saying-It matters not what kind of plant it was; its growth was certainly miraculous. It may have been an indigenous plant; it may have been such a plant that has never grown before or after. Two things are evident, he says-God prepared it and God used it to shelter Jonah. So what’s Jonah’s response-4:6b. This is great-he thinks-I’ve got double the shade! Notice the description-exceedingly glad-and where did we hear this word before? Verse 1-Jonah was exceedingly angry. So he’s really, really happy about some shade, but really, really mad that God showed mercy to some people. Do you see how effective God’s object lesson is exposing his double-standard?
So all day and all night Jonah’s relaxing in the shade with a front row seat for fire and brimstone-pic. He’s hoping to get the first exciting peek of judgment-when the sun comes up and a little critter comes along-v. 7. Again notice God’s sovereignty at work and He isn’t done-v. 8a. Now a hot wind blowing off the Arabian desert smoothers Jonah, making him ready to collapse. I remember last summer on vacation in FL when it felt like the temperature was giving you a big bearhug, you couldn’t get away from it. We’ve all experienced intense heat. So Jonah’s in bad shape-I think his request is rather legitimate at this point-v. 8b. Lord, just take me now-I can’t stand the heat-it’s too much! And so God asks His question-v. 9a. Again the NIV asks, “Do you have a right to be angry about the vine?” And this time the text tells us Jonah’s response-v. 9b. So he does have a right to be angry about this plant? Think about it. Disappointed-sure. Bummed out for his lost shade-yeah. But a right or reason to be angry? Did Jonah plant this shrub? Did he put it there? Was this plant his? No. It was all of God. Jonah’s furious that it’s withered away but he was merely the recipient of God’s good grace by having the shade in the first place. And that’s precisely God’s point-v. 10. It’s a plant, Jonah! Here today, gone tomorrow. And so God declares His main point-v. 11. I’ve always thought that last line is funny. They’ve got a lot of cows in Nineveh-beef eaters over there. Love their steak. But actually, this is a very important point God is making. He’s saying that even cattle, not to mention people-and the 120,000 refers to children-but the whole city was 600,000 plus. So God is saying the people-and even the cattle-are so much more important than plants. Jonah’s heart has gotten all out of whack-totally warped by having all the wrong priorities about his plant-and that’s where it ends. Book’s finished! No more pages. We think-wait, what happens next? Don’t end it now. But it does end, driving home the point so powerfully that after all that’s happened what’s Jonah’s main priority? Himself and his own comfort. Jonah’s a 2-year-old having a temper-tantrum-God, give me my shade!!
I included this chart because I find it so helpful in comparing God’s heart and Jonah’s heart-Chart. When it’s put side-by-side like that you can’t help but see the stark difference. Jonah’s upset about his treehouse and God’s concerned for the lives of thousands of people. There’s no comparison. Jonah was consumed with superficiality-something completely temporal. God’s illustration couldn’t have been clearer-the plant was here one night, gone the next-while people have eternal importance. We easily see the foolishness and absurdity of Jonah’s attitude. Yeah, that guy’s a little too obsessed with his shrubbery! But I have to ask the question-are our lives any different? What are the temporal things that consume us? God has given Jonah a one-day plant, but are the clothes we wear, the cars we drive, even the houses we live in really that much more permanent? Maybe your car has lasted for 10 years-my father still drives my first car that he helped me buy-a 97 Chevy Cavalier. It’s 20 years old and he can now get classic plates for it. But it’s barely hanging on at 250,000 miles. Or I remember the weirdest conversation I had with a former neighbor who pointed out that the shorts he was wearing were over 30 years old! Time to get some new shorts! Or maybe you’ve lived in your house for 50 years or plan to live there for 50 years that’s a long time but it’s still only a drop in the bucket compared to the staggering length of eternity. These things fall apart. You and I would do well to learn from God’s illustration to Jonah. To understand that the things which so consume us in the moment can end up being as frivolous as a plant in the sight of what God considers truly important.
I want to leave us with 3 questions to ponder as we conclude our study in the book of Jonah. Q1: What temporal things consume my life more than they should? Where are your priorities out of whack? In what ways are you focused on the here and now, making this or that thing way more important than it should ever be? In what areas has your heart been captured by something superficial that really doesn’t matter? How are you crying out to God-I want my shade and I’ll be angry if you don’t give it to me! It’s easy for our hearts to be stolen away. It’s easy to let personal comfort and selfish desires eclipse everything else in life. If you’re like me, the more I get often doesn’t make me more grateful, sad to say it just makes me that much more greedy. Temporal things have a funny way of looking so important. But let me ask this, what ‘thing’ was so important to you five years ago, or even just a year ago, or a month ago-is it still that important now? Most likely not. You’re probably hard-pressed to remember what you got for Christmas last year and yet in the moment getting your Christmas shopping done becomes an all-consuming task-and often causes us to lose sight of what we’re even celebrating. Jesus addresses this very truth-Matt 6:19-20. Don’t make a plant your treasure, a little worm can eat it up-just like moths chew holes in clothes and cars get rusty. Don’t make any ‘thing’ on earth a treasure because it can so easily be gone tomorrow. As I said anything that lasts over 5 or 10 years is rare and we start calling it vintage. Earthly things are just that-they’re earthly, they’ll break or fall apart or wither or go out of style or just become irrelevant and unnecessary.
Here’s a picture of a cucumber vine-if that’s what shade Jonah. But what if a guy had this in his backyard today-and it was all he cared about. He faithfully watered it, pruned it, sat next to it, talked to it, obsessed over it. His world revolved around this plant so much so that he excluded everything else. He ignored his wife and kids, stopped going to work in order to care for the plant when people would come over he wouldn’t talk to them because he was sitting next to his plant. Everything meaningful was put on hold or set aside because of this plant. We’d think someone like that was crazy. All they cared about was a plant and ignored everything that was important in life. Back that’s what Jonah is saying to God. All I care about is this plant-my comfort and my shade-don’t take it away from me Lord. And yet God is saying-Jonah, it’s a plant that can’t even last a day and I’m concerned about people whose souls last an eternity! It’s easy to see how foolish it is when reading about Jonah-but what about ourselves? What’s your plant in life that you obsess over? What thing do you get so focused on or wrapped up in that you miss the important things God wants you to see and do? Back to Q1. And let me challenge you to be risky and ask your spouse this question. Get their opinion because chances are they see what you don’t see. Ask your spouse-what stuff consumes my life that shouldn’t consume it so much? And then have the courage to hear the answer and let it go.
What did Jesus say-Matt 6:21. The key to all of this is your heart. Jonah’s heart was not where it needed to be. Not only had he run from God’s will by boarding a boat to Tarshish, he had run from God’s love. Jonah had chosen not to love what God loves-and in this case that was a city of sinful people that needed the gospel. But God’s desire was to take Jonah in a direction he didn’t want to go-but sure needed to. And of course Jonah fought it tooth and nail, therefore he spiraled further and further down into a love of silly, superficial things. His heart needed to be re-centered on God. And the same is true of you and me. So Q2: What eternal things should I love that God loves? How can your heart be more conformed to His heart? In what areas is your heart cold when God would have it be warm? Who do you need to love and reach out to? Who do you need to forgive? Is your heart filled with a desire for mercy and compassion? Or is your heart more concerned with fairness and people getting what they deserve? Like Jonah, how can you root out of your heart a love of personal pleasure and begin to replace it with a love of others? I find Jonah’s story extremely chilling because if God’s prophet can become so hardened to His priorities, then how much more do you and me, regular people, need to watch over our hearts? The book of Jonah has a variety of layers. On the one hand, it’s about obedience. Jonah needed to follow God and do what He said. But on the other hand, the book goes deeper than just obedience because it aims to uncover the motive of our hearts. Sure Jonah eventually obeyed, but we now discover in the end that he obeyed with a cold, callous, ungrateful heart-and that gets to the core of the issue. God doesn’t want obedience for obedience sake; He wants a changed heart. He wants your obedience to flow out of what’s happening on the inside. He doesn’t want you to try and fool others with your dedication or religious fervor. He wants you to have authentic love and honestly say-Lord, mold my heart to resemble your heart. Hammer and chisel away at it. Remove all the hardness and crusty parts. Transform it to be filled with grace. And that’s a daily prayer-it certainly is in my life-because I wake up each morning worried about me. I have to intentionally reset my heart and say-Lord, let me love like you love do-not think I’m better than others or try to alienate others or keep them far away from me-but love the people you’ve placed in my life. Will that be your prayer? Or are you running from people, content to keep your distance and watch them suffer, like Jonah, sitting in the comfort of your own shade?
You see Jonah felt that the Ninevites didn’t deserve God’s forgiveness. He thought they were too wicked, too sinful-therefore he believed that it was a great crime for them not to be punished and wiped out. And so he ended up in a place of great bitterness and anger. But what is it that we know Jonah only saw a glimpse of? Certainly, Jonah understood what he complained about in chp 4 that God was gracious and merciful and abounding in steadfast love-and that should have been enough for him. But what was it that Jonah couldn’t see that we get to see? Jesus-paying for those sins on the cross. You see God doesn’t let sin go unpunished. He wasn’t giving the Ninevites a free ride or sweeping their sin under the rug, instead, He takes all of their sin and puts it on His Son Jesus. There at the cross the punishment and judgement for the Ninevites’ sin that Jonah so wanted them to endure, was endured by Jesus. What they deserved was paid for-it just wasn’t paid by them it was paid by Jesus. Jonah wanted a front row seat for judgement as he sat under the shade tree. He should have sat at the foot of the cross. There he would have seen God’s judgment enacted as Jesus suffered and died. He would have seen God’s justice perfectly executed as those sins were punished, but he also would have seen grace and love like he never would have imagined as Jesus take that punishment. And it’s no different for you and me. The judgment we want others to pay for, the justice our hearts cry out for, is ultimately met at the cross. And lest we think of ourselves too highly-the judgment and punishment we deserve was met at the cross too-so that we could be saved and forgiven-Col 2:13-14. And that record of our sins was nailed there-because Jesus was nailed there. He’s the one who pays it-the cross is where justice and mercy meet, where judgment and grace come together-Future Grace, 268. That’s the part Jonah forgot-but what about you?
So Q3: If the world ended today, would my ending be like Jonah’s ending? If it all was over later today, if the world ended at 2:30 pm, would your story end like Jonah’s story, concerned about yourself and your own comfort, but not all that interested or passionate about people? If someone was to write a biography about your life, how would it end right now? Would it be as dismal as Jonah? Would people find you under a tree hoping to see others get the judgment they deserve-or obsessing about something as insignificant as a plant? Would the truth of your heart be exposed so people would say, “Ohh, that’s not good” because that’s what we’re saying about Jonah. Wow, he was a cold-hearted, selfish guy. Would the same be said of you? It’s a sobering question but the truth is that it doesn’t have to be. Your story doesn’t have to end like Jonah’s story. We see that God has been sovereignly working the whole time in Jonah’s life, forcing him to examine his own heart. And as we read his story God is working in your life. He wants you to humbly take inventory of your heart, to examine it, and let His love change it. Jonah-postcard. That’s what Jonah’s story teaches us. And I believe Jonah chose to end it this way on purpose. No doubt he’s writing this later in life. And we’ll never know what became of him, the text doesn’t say. But Jonah finished his story here to specifically tell us we don’t have to end our story like his. The rest of your story, my story, is still to be written. And that’s so exciting! God’s not done with us!
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