Jonah: The Mercy of God
Open your Bibles, if you would, to the book of Jonah. If you're a guest with us today, I've been preaching through the books of the Bible and doing an entire book in one sermon. So, today we have Jonah; we've gone all the way from Genesis till now. So, it's a good resource for you. This is a fascinating book. After studying it to preach an overview sermon, I think I need to schedule it in to do a verse-by-verse. But I think you'll enjoy this, this morning.
Let me ask you a question. What difference can one person make? You may have heard of a lady named Rosa Parks for her courage on December 1, 1955, in Montgomery, Alabama, and all that she accomplished, not giving up her seat to a white person even though she was in the colored section at that time; they forget that sometimes. She was a very courageous woman, but there was someone who came before her. Nine months before that, there's a little-known lady named Claudette Colvin. You may know about her. She had a similar situation where she was riding the bus, under those disgraceful conditions, and was asked to give up her seat and to stand, actually. And she decided that she wasn't going to do that. She was 15 at the time and pregnant. And yet people still wanted her to move from her seat. But she wasn't the right person or the time to spark the movement. She was too young and wouldn't be able to handle the pressure.
But nonetheless, if you watch interviews with Rosa Parks, you will find out that Claudette was the inspiration for Rosa Parks to courageously do what she did. We should be thankful for all of those, for the great things that they have done, for the wonderful difference that they tried to make, just as one person with a seemingly insurmountable challenge in front of them, yet one person can make a difference. We are familiar with many stories like that throughout history. And as you'll see, Jonah wanted no part of making a difference. He was just the opposite of courageous Claudette or Rosa. Jonah didn't want to make a difference at all, in fact, a very odd thing to have in mind, a very odd disposition for a prophet of God. But as you'll see, that's exactly where we find Jonah in chapter one.
Turn there with me, if you would, to Jonah chapter one. It's a short book. Throughout the message, we'll end up reading the whole book together today. So, if you're doing a Bible reading plan, by the end of the service you'll have knocked out Jonah. It's on page 774 in the Bibles under the seats there. Chapter one, I guess, we could call it Jonah's rebellion, the prophet who ran away. As a prophet, he was definitely a servant of God. He heard from God in ways that other people didn't. There were other contemporary prophets alive during Jonah's time. But he was a prophet to Israel, he was a true Hebrew. And his calling was to turn Israel from their wicked ways, to turn them to the living God. This is what he did, day in and day out. If God gave him a message, he would, in fact, deliver it.
But look here at Jonah, chapter one, this day would be different. “Now the word of the LORD [that is Yahweh] came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it for their evil has come up before me.’” I mean, this just sounds like another day. Jonah, I've got another city for you to go and rebuke. That would not have scared the man, Jonah. Well, unfortunately for him, his assignment this time was not within Israel. It wasn't to one of the northern ten tribes that he was given over to, nor was it part of the southern two tribes, Judah and Benjamin. He was going to be sent out and away from the protection of Israel, their army, their people, their God, and in his mind, sent to another nation—Assyria.
You see, Nineveh, the biblical city Nineveh, was the capital of Assyria. That's where the king of Assyria lived. And it was a fortified city. And it was the last place any Israelite or anyone that wasn't an Assyrian would want to go. They had begun, in fact, to take over the world; their army was unparalleled. And we're not sure if the book of Jonah happens before Assyria conquered Israel in 722. We're not exactly sure where we can put this, but we do know that they had already started to conquer surrounding nations. But again, Jonah wasn't having it. Jonah didn't want to take God’s redeeming word to the Ninevites.
Have you ever felt like that? Where God says, “You know that person. I want you to bring my word to bear on their lives.” And you just go, “Lord, isn't there someone else besides that person that I could share the gospel with? Or that I could talk to?” You probably already have those people coming to your house for Christmas, or you're getting their Christmas card, and it reminds you of them. And Jonah was there. In fact, he was in the stubborn streak. You know that streak. We hit it every now and then where it's just like, “No, Lord, that path does not look sweet to me today. I am going another path.”
And so, we pick up in verse three, in chapter one, “But Jonah rose to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the LORD. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. So he paid the fare and went down into it, to go with them to Tarshish, away from the presence of the LORD.” Verse three is a little redundant. To get the point, Jonah is going west when he should have been going east, okay. He is trying to run away from the God who created the entire universe. Verse four. “But the LORD.” Whenever you see that in Scripture, just circle that. You'll see that “but God” in Ephesians. You'll see man's plan, and then God enters the scene. “But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.”
Notice in this next section how everyone is affected except Jonah. Okay, notice what Jonah's doing versus what everyone else is doing. Verse five, “Then the mariners [that is the others on the ship] were afraid, and each cried out to his god. And they hurled the cargo that was in the ship into the sea to lighten it for them. But Jonah had gone down into the inner part of the ship and had laid down and was fast asleep. So the captain came and said to him, ‘What do you mean, you sleeper? Arise, call out to your god!’ Perhaps the god will give a thought to us, that we may not perish.’ And they said to one another, ‘Come, let us cast lots, that we may know on whose account this evil has come upon us.’ So they cast lots, and the lot fell on Jonah.” Notice the pagan men were casting lots because they believed that a divine god somewhere was in control of even their lots.
Verse eight, “Then they said to him, ‘Tell us on whose account this evil has come upon us. What is your occupation? And where do you come from? What is your country? And of what people are you?’” Notice verse five, the mariners were afraid. This is their territory. They were seafaring men, but their ship was breaking apart. This is not like a little wave that knocks the canoe around. This is like a wave that moves a massive boat around. Except Jonah was asleep. The men were afraid. But wait until they hear what Jonah says. They're going to be even more afraid.
Verse nine, he answered them, “’I am a Hebrew, and I fear the LORD, the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land’. Then the men were exceedingly afraid and said to him, ‘What is this you have done! For the men knew that he was fleeing from the presence of the LORD, because he had told them. Then they said to him, ‘What should we do to you, that the sea may quiet down for us? For the sea grew more and more tempestuous. And he said to them, ‘Pick me up and hurl me into the sea; then the sea will quiet down for you, for I know it is because of me that the great tempest has come upon you. Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they could not, for the sea grew more and more tempestuous against them. Therefore they called out to the LORD, ’O, LORD, let us not perish for this man's life, and lay not on us innocent blood, for you, O LORD, have done as it pleased you.’ [They got that right. Verse 15] So they picked up Jonah and hurled him into the sea, and the sea ceased from its raging. Then the men feared the LORD exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the LORD and made vows.”
Jonah's fear seemed to be slightly different from everyone else's, did it not? The men went from fear, in verse five, to extreme fear, in verse 10, to extreme fear of Yahweh. God will get your attention one way or the other. The point is, is that God was no longer invited into Jonah's life. He was already not part of the mariner’s life; they didn't know which God Jonah served, so he told them. But God invited himself into Jonah's life. You see, we think at times, that we are the keepers of God in this world, that he no longer has permission to do anything to us or to affect us, unless we invite him. The story of Jonah stands as witness against that falsehood.
When God is no longer invited in your life, God may intervene. That is, he may violently interfere with your plans. Here's what we must learn. And this is the first point: that God will pursue his wayward sheep. God will pursue his wayward sheep. See, God got his attention. And Jonah found himself swimming in the ocean. And if you've ever been in the ocean, where the waves are taller than you, you do what the waves want you to do, there is no overcoming that; no matter how good of a swimmer you are, you will be pushed down in such a sea.
And so, we see in verse 17, “And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” Not quite the vacation he was looking for. Friends, we must not miss the point that God has at his disposal ways and means that are beyond your comprehension, and he is willing to use them to get your heart to follow him. Question, how's Jonah's plan working out so far? This is the guy that spoke directly to God, and God spoke directly to him. And of course, he is knowledgeable in the scriptures. Much had been written by this time. He had the Pentateuch; he had the five books of Moses; he had the Psalms, he had all of those things from which he could draw knowledge about who God was. But his plan was to run away. Not a good plan, obviously.
Another question that we must answer before we move on, and this is really important to understanding this book, is this a real story? Was Jonah a real historical person? Is this a fictitious account? Is it real? Is it fake? What is it? How do we know if this is real or not? Besides, well, it's in the Bible, so it's got to be true. Well, I didn't ask if it was true. I asked if it was real. Are we talking about real people, real fish, real sheep, real mariners, real cities and the like? Well, let me give you three main reasons why I think it has to be an historical real account. And yes, this does matter to the importance of the story.
First, the Bible presents it as a real story. There's nothing in here that makes us think this is not a real story, until you get to verse 17, and it knocks on our sensibilities that “Well, could a fish actually swallow a person? That can't be true. So, this must be fake.” That's the only reason that this story might not be real, if you buy that. But again, God spoke the world into existence. So, if you're tracking from Genesis one on, all the way up until now, that shouldn't throw you. Whether science is up to speed with Scripture or not, shouldn't throw you. We shouldn't try and develop other systems of understanding the Scriptures, because science is or is not up to par with what Scripture declares. We understand now that there are fish large enough, that do breathe air, that could make this happen. But that's not why we think it's real.
The Bible mentions Jonah's dad; the Bible mentions real cities with real people, mentions a real place he's supposed to go, and even customs of the day that people actually used. So, the Bible presents this as a real story. Second, Jonah is mentioned as a real person in other parts of Scripture. 2 Kings 14:25 presents Jonah as a real prophet to Israel and even mentions in that verse, in 2 Kings 14:25, his hometown, where he was born. So, they could look that up and see if these things are real. He's also mentioned by Matthew in Matthew's account. He's also mentioned in Luke's account as a real person and discussed as a real person.
Jesus himself even speaks of Jonah as a real person. And that's the third reason. So, you've got the Bible, presenting it as a real story, Jonah mentioned in other books as a real person, and Jesus himself mentions Jonah as a real person. And not only that, but he uses it to argue with the Pharisees. This is found in Matthew, chapter 12. If you want to turn there to your New Testament, the first book of the New Testament, Matthew 12:38. This is important in understanding the book of Jonah. Jesus speaks of him as being swallowed by a great fish as something that actually happened. In fact, Jesus even calls this a sign--that Jonah being three days and nights in the belly of the great fish was a sign of the Messiah to come, and his being three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. Look in Matthew 12:38 with me. “Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, [that is Jesus] saying, ‘Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you. [Verse 39] But he [that's Jesus] answered them, ‘An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, [Tell that to your health and wealth gospel friends.] but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.’” You can also look in Luke, chapter 11, verses 29 to 32 to see the parallel account.
Now listen, if Jesus is talking to the Pharisees, the religious guys of the day, who are supposed to know and understand and teach the Old Testament, which the Jewish people normally call this the First Testament. And so, teachers, if you're ever talking to Jewish people, you might hear First Testament, that's what we call the Old Testament. But he's talking to them out in public. And how silly would it be for Jesus to pin the sign of the most important event in His whole ministry on a fictitious, wild story? Jesus, we know you're a lunatic now. I mean, if he if he just says, think about that guy, that we made up, who went to made up cities, and was swallowed by this giant fish, or sea monster, or whatever. And he pins the significance of his ministry, on some large, fairy tale? How ridiculous Jesus would look.
But that's not all we have to go on to know that Jesus thought this was a real person who actually got swallowed by a real fish. Look in Matthew 12, verse 41. We're not done with the people of Nineveh; they will appear again in the future. “The men of Nineveh [the men of Nineveh, Jesus says] will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it.” So not only was that a preview, a foreshadowing that Jesus calls a type, a sign, not only is that a sign, but in the end in times, in the end, when we're all judged, when all you people are judged, he's telling the crowd, guess who's gonna show up and condemn you? Those people, the men of Nineveh, the men of Nineveh. Now, why would Jesus say fictitious people are going to show up at the final judgment if the final judgment is a real event. He wouldn't, of course.
So, Scripture sees not only this story being about real people, but that it actually happened and occurred just as Scripture said. If you want to get jeered at, just post a lot about the sermon on your social media, and how amazing it was for God to have a man be swallowed by a great fish. But for those three reasons: that the Bible presents it as real, that Jonah is mentioned in other books, and then that Jesus himself says it's a sign of the greatest act in his ministry, we know Jonah is real and about a real story that actually happened.
Well, we transition and Jonah, at this point, has been hanging out in the belly of a great first for three days and three nights. And you can just picture whatever you want to picture that may look like, whatever that may smell like, whatever Jonah may be covered in, and what he may be thinking. But we don't have to wonder at this point what he's thinking. For some odd reason, Jonah has a change of heart at this point. This is point two: that God is willing to rescue you. God is willing to rescue you. We see Jonah's prayer in chapter two, verse one and following. “Then Jonah prayed [It's always a good move.] Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, saying, ‘I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, [That's the place of the dead for them.] and you heard my voice.
For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me. [Verse four] Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple.’ [Even there, Jonah had hope in God. Verse five] The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God. When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple. Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love. But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the Lord!’ And the Lord spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.”
This had to be the most unique prayer closet ever. And his answer, the fish is going to vomit you where I want you to go. Jonah came back to his senses. He understood, you can run but you cannot hide from God. Do not fool yourselves. You can never hide from the Lord. Jonah understood that God was in control. It was God who cast him into the deep in chapter two, verse three, not the sailors. The waves and the billows and the storm were all God’s. It was God in verse six who saved him. “Yet you brought my life up from the pit,” he says in verse six. Jonah had a moment of clarity. I pray we never have to have that happen to us, for us to have a moment of clarity. And there in the belly of the fish, he remembered the greatest truth of all. Do you see it there in his prayer? What's the greatest truth that Jonah mentions in that prayer? “Salvation belongs to Yahweh.”
Notice he didn't ask to be saved from the fish. He had thanksgiving in the belly of the fish. He recognized who was in control of the fish; he recognized who was in control of all things, and he recognized who was in control of salvation. So, God rescues Jonah, verse 10, “And the Lord spoke to the fish.” And it put him back on dry land in the most unholy of ways. I think it would be fair to say that this was an unforgettable experience for Jonah.
You might think at this point, once he hits the land, all slimy and stinky, that God would give him a vacation. Look, you've come to your senses. It's time for you to take a break, right? We don't want you to be, what do we say here to America when people work too hard for all the wrong reasons? They're what? They're burned out. No one gets burned out on God's strength; we always get burned out on our strength, okay? So, Jonah didn't get a vacation. And in fact, he had a very long trip to make across the land. But the most important thing about Jonah, at this point, was he had a newfound willingness to do exactly what God wanted him to do.
Friends, think about that. Consider that in your own life. Where are you with Jesus Christ? Where are you with serving the King of kings and the Lord of lords? What is God going to have to do to get your attention? Well, the third point that we come to here is that Jonah's preaching was still potent. Jonah's preaching was still potent. The substance, though, of his message may shock you. If you've been here in this church for a while, it might not, but if you're new, the substance of his message may shock you. Chapter three, verse one, “Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying, ‘Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it the message that I tell you.”
Jonah was ready to say only what God had told him. Is that not the very disposition of Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus said, “I do not speak to you my words, but only those words that come from the Father.” Jonah was ready to say not only what God told him, but everything God told them. This is the position of every obedient preacher. You do not want a preacher who is going to skip the hard passages. You do not want a preacher that is going to tickle your ears all the time, as though you may laugh yourself into heaven. The next day, you may have wished, “Wow, I was in this state where I just I really needed this. But all he did was preach God's word.” That is what you want. No matter what church you're in on the planet, you want to hear God's message.
This is also the position of every obedient believer. We call out the message God gives us. We do not try and change the message. We do not try and soften the message, because why? That changes the message. We do not try and give it to somebody in such a way that softens what God does not soften. We do not want to be brash and arrogant as we speak to people, because why? It’s not our message in the first place. But unequivocally you will get challenged. I remember even as a little boy in the neighborhood that I grew up in, in Brunswick, Maryland, talking to people about Scripture. “What an arrogant young man you are,” I heard over and over again. And maybe I was. But I would not bow or bend when someone said, “That's your, [what?] opinion.” “Well, it is my opinion. But you don't need to quibble with my opinion. It's also God's.” That's where you might get called arrogant. And that's where we need to be humble. As a young boy, I don't think I was. I prayed to God, I would be at this point.
But when we give the message to someone, and you may have many opportunities this Christmas season, to give the message to someone, you want to make sure that that their argument is with Jesus Christ and His word, not with you. So, if you've got this long, bitter history with someone, don't expect that they're just going to rejoice at the message you bring. We need to do everything we can to stay out of the way of the message and present only the Word of God clearly. But people should know that we don't bow to their wishes. When Jesus says do this, and they want us to do that. We have convictions, and that's why we do things.
And I'm so thankful for you all who want to come, if you're able, on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. And so many of you have said, “I'm so thankful we're having a service on Christmas Day.” Those are the joys that we have together as believers. We shouldn't look down on other people who don't do those things. But for us, that is a great joy. So, Jonah got his marching orders the second time, and his feet were willing. And so, look in verse three of chapter three. “So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. [one of the greatest phrases in all of the scriptures] Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, three days journey in breadth. Jonah began to go into the city, going a day's journey. And he called out, ‘Yet 40 days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!’” That's it. That's it.
You may say, “Well, we probably don't have all the message.” Well, is that how scripture portrays it? Tell them, call out the message that I tell you. It couldn't have been pages and pages and pages of things. He was supposed to give the message and only the message. “Yet 40 days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” That's the sum total of his message. If there was more, we don't have it. And God didn't want you to think about it, dwell on it or ask what it might have been. There was no friendship evangelism going on here with Jonah. There was no cookies and punch and years’ worth of saying hello and inviting them into your house, and then can I tell you about Jesus? No, it was your city's going down. Repent. Sounds like a good Christmas message, right? I mean, this is what God Almighty thinks is the best thing the most wicked, evil city near Jonah needed to hear. “You're getting what's coming to you.” Many, many pulpits today will not be preaching that message. They think that the truth is too difficult to receive, the truth that God made, the truth that God declares.
“Yet 40 days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Now, I will say that everybody loves a short sermon. So, they probably did have their hearts wooed towards the length of the message that Jonah was giving, but that was probably about it. Many preachers and believers think that you have to woo people to Christ, that people are so down and out. So controlled, so manipulated, such like a burning wick,
a small, fragile reed that the truth is just too much. And you can't point out their sin. So largely, churches in America skip much of Scripture. But is that what Jonah did? Did God send Jonah to preach puppies and butterflies? Did he sent him to preach, “Hey, it's gonna be just fine.” God is loving, he'll understand if you worship pagan gods.”
Do you remember Abraham? What was Abraham doing when God called him? He was a pagan idol worshiper. Did he say, “Hey, bring your bag of idols along and here's another one to throw in the mix.” No, Abraham, the Abraham, was a pagan idol worshiper. And God called them out of that to a new life. Praise God, he listened because now all families of the earth will be blessed by him. So, what happened to this wonderful, perfect message that Jonah delivered? Verse five, “And the people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and they put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them, to the least of them.” Ushers, if you could go ahead and pass out the sackcloth for everybody today, we've got some new garb for you. “The word reached even the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.” Somebody want to take a trip to the White House today? Everybody should be repenting. Right?
“And he issued a proclamation [verse seven] and published through Nineveh, ‘By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, heard nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, [the cows had sackcloth on even] and let them call out to mighty God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.’” Message received. Lives changed. No chicken fellowship dinner needed to be had, nothing. It was just the powerful word of God, from God's man.
“When God saw what they did, [verse 10] and how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.” They repented and believed. Do you see why Jesus says this is a sign. Not only was he in the belly of the fish, but he went and preached that people should repent. And they did. This is the greatest revival in history, no gimmicks, just truth. They understood the message. They understood what they needed to do. They understood in faith and change their lives for the glory of God immediately.
Sometimes we think that people are so sinful that it's going to take them years to produce any fruit. What happened with these people? It was immediate. Why? Because the truth is what changes people. That God's grace is what changes people. It's not some big “Ooh, now I need to develop a new, you know, 90-day plan to get rid of all my old bad habits.” No, God breaks them in an instant. God changes you in an instant. And he calls you to his service. And he says, “Follow me.” That's exactly what they did. Praise be to God for that. You say, “How do we know they'll be in heaven? Was Jonah really talking about you know, like, transformational salvation. Maybe they kind of went back on their word; the book Nahum is all about how wicked Nineveh was in the future.”
Well, Nahum is 100 years later, okay. Look in Matthew 12 again, that verse that we read, Matthew, chapter 12, verse 41. “The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here.” At the preaching of Jonah's message, an entire city repented and believed in God, and you will see them in heaven one day. And if that makes us uneasy, so be it. But that's exactly what God calls us to do. Jesus said they repented. Was Jesus confused? Jesus was not confused. It's not like he's gonna call on people who are destined for hell to give testimony against other people destined for hell.
That's not the point. The point is not just that they put ashes on their head and changed their lives for a while and held a little fast. That wasn't the point of Jesus's preaching of repentance. The point is that they are unequivocally changed forever. And that is what happens with every true believer; they are changed; they are made new. God does a miraculous work in your life, and changes you and takes you and says, “You are mine.” Praise be to God we can be God's children, all of his work of grace. And from our side, it looks like we respond in repentance and believing faith.
Jonah's preaching brought an entire city to repentance. And Jesus said he was greater. He's either the most arrogant person ever, or he's the most powerful preacher ever. The entire world would be affected by the preaching of Jesus, 1000s of years later, every single day, the name of Jesus is spoken. That is a powerful message. Well, you know, the ending of Jonah. Conversion makes every preacher happy, right? Not Jonah. Jonah is an odd duck for sure.
Chapter four, verse one, “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. [What preacher gets angry at conversions? Jonah! He's a very complicated fellow. Verse two] 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're a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.’”
You can just hear the venom and the sarcasm. “I hate your plan. Just kill me now.” I'm sure you've never thought that. “Lord, I hate this plan. I don't like your plan, Lord. I don't like that you knew I would say, ‘I don't like your plan.’ I don't like that you knew that I would rebel against you, and yet you call me by your grace still. I don't like that your grace is unending. I don't like that it's deep and wide. I don't like that your forgiveness puts sins as far as the east is from west, and although you know all things, it's like you forget them, and you treat me as though I have never sinned. I hate that plan, Lord.”
That's what Jonah is doing. He is the most self-absorbed prophet in the Old Testament, by far. Jonah wanted revenge, not forgiveness. He is not the guest speaker you want. Let me ask you a question. If the one who's caused you the most pain in life was 100% forgiven, would you be happy about it? Jonah was furious. Verse four, “And the LORD said, ‘Do you do well to be angry?’” You just hear this soft voice talking to Jonah. “Jonah [verse five] went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there.” In other words, he made like a little, tiny shack that they put out in the middle of a field when it's hot from the day. The workers would go in there and have rest from the shade. And so, Jonah made himself one; he was obviously a horrible carpenter because God had to help him with more shade.
The middle of verse five, “He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. [In verse six] Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, [his shack probably had a lot of holes in it] to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant.” We love our comforts. I'm just telling you, we do! We love them so much. You're gonna see it on the face of millions of people come December 25th morning, when they show up for church. When they open their presents, right? Or whatever, it may be you have a special meal you make only Christmas morning, or when you wake up and maybe your spouse beat you to it, and there's coffee going and cinnamon rolls or something like that. We love the perks.
Jonah was so happy, “exceedingly glad,” there's that word ‘exceedingly’. Remember that? I emphasized it earlier. Who else was exceedingly-something? The mariners—"exceedingly afraid” of God? That Jonah is angry with now. Jonah is bold, very bold. Verse seven, “But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, ‘It's better for me to die than to live.’
But God said to Jonah, ‘Do you do well to be angry for the plant? And Jonah said, [Now listen, Jonah's gonna respond.] ‘Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.’ And the LORD said, ‘You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from the left, and also much cattle?’”
I mean, Jonah, even the cattle were in sackcloth and ashes. Jonah, the plant that I made that I cause to grow and die, you care more about that plant than everyone in the city. And some commentators think this “120,000 persons who don't know their right hand from the left hand”, might refer to very young children. So, if there's 120,000 young children there in the city, this city is packed with people. What was that all about? Well, God had to show Jonah just how self-centered he really was.
And that's the state of all people who won't obey God. If you won't obey God, you are Jonah. He was bitter. He was angry. And that's the state of all people who won't forgive others. God simply showed Jonah that he cared more about himself than anyone. That is a sobering message, for sure. But that's why Jonah ran away. You see, he knew that in the bitterness, in the stubbornness, in the desire to be selfish, in the desire to just reject other people, to want vengeance on other people, that God in chapter four, verse two, was gracious. Meaning that his grace was greater than their sin, that his grace and mercy would win the day, that God could reach anyone no matter how evil or stubborn they were. The Assyrians literally wiped-out cities, full of men, women and children without remorse. Jonah knew God was slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and relenting from disaster. I mean, that's the very reason people run to God and Jonah proved that.
See, the interesting thing about Jonah is, God can use anyone. And he knew one person could make a difference. But the story isn't really about Jonah, friends. This story is about God. It was God's command to preach. Tell them the message I tell you. It was God's prophet who was sent. It was God's ocean that he tried to flee on. It was God's storm. It was God's fish. It was God receiving the prayer from the belly of the great fish. It was God causing the fish to spit Jonah out. It was God's man who brought God's message to Nineveh. It was God's created people who repented by God's grace. It was God who is patient, God who is merciful, God who forgives, God who was is and will be in control. Jonah is about God. We can fight against God, or I pray and beg you, follow God. But you cannot do both. May this day we choose to live for the merciful, forgiving God, to the praise and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Let's pray. Father God, there is no better place to be than in your will, to be showered by your grace, to be surrounded by your love. Lord, my prayer today is that you would break us of any sin that we coddle, that you would help us, Lord God, to be changed by your Word. As it says in the book of Jonah, “according to the Word of God.” Lord God, give us hearts to receive your message. Give us feet that are willing to obey you. Friends, right now, let's just take a moment and confess any sins in our lives where we are unwilling to obey God, that He might have mercy on us. Lord God, we're all in need of your continued grace. We pray that you would sustain and comfort us through the Lord Jesus Christ whom you have sent, and we might have a full and abundant relationship with you. May you be on our minds and hearts and lips this Christmas time of year, in your precious Holy Name, Amen.
other sermons in this series