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1. Final scene in the saga of Jonah. We've come a long way in this journey since it began. When we begin this journey, you may have thought that it was mostly about a man who got swallowed by a big fish. But what we've seen is that the great fish was only just a small part of this story.
2. As we come to Scene VI in this journey with Jonah, we come to a part of the book that we may be the least familiar with.
3. As we saw last week, Jonah finally went to Nineveh and preached the sermon that we'd been waiting to hear and that he'd been so reluctant to preach. "Yet 40 days and Nineveh shall be overthrown." Amazingly, the entire city from the people on up to the King and down to the animals all responded with repentance and they turned from their evil ways. And God, doing what God loves to do, "relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and He did not do it."
4. And with that, the curtain closed on Scene V and opens onto the final scene.
I. Jonah's Anger At Nineveh's Salvation
A. Jonah's Angry Reaction – 4:1
1. Scene VI opens with these terrible words, "But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry." Literally, the Hebrew reads like this, "But it became evil to Jonah as a great evil."
2. All along, God has referred to Nineveh as a "great city." And when Jonah arrived in Nineveh we were told it was an "exceedingly great city." Now that this "exceedingly great city" has been converted and God has relented from the disaster he promised to it, Jonah's reaction is to be "exceedingly angry."
3. Jonah is exceedingly angry, not at the Ninehvites, but at God.
B. The reason for Jonah's anger.
1. What's good about Jonah is that even when he is angry with God, he still prays. A lot of the Psalms are what are called "complaint Psalms." The Psalmist is angry with God, and yet he still considers safe and secure enough with God to come to Him with his complaint. That's good. It's a sign of faith. Granted, you'd better be ready to be shown that you're wrong for being angry with Him, but its safe to pray.
2. From the beginning of this journey, we have wondered why Jonah was so reluctance to go to Nineveh and speak out against it. We've never been given the reason for his reluctance. But now, here for the first time, we hear Jonah's reasons for running.
3. "Therefore Jonah called out 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."
4. Jonah's reason for running away was because he knew that if Nineveh repented, God would be merciful to them and relent from the disaster He promised.
5. The irony again is amazing. The King of Nineveh says, "who knows, God may turn and relent" and preaches repentance to his people. Jonah says, "I knew that you would relent." And this makes Jonah not want to preach to the Ninevites.
6. So, was it because Jonah was afraid of those nasty Ninevites that he was so reluctant to go? No. Was it because Jonah felt he wasn't up to the huge challenge of evangelizing such a pagan people? No. It was because Jonah did not want to see Nineveh saved.
7. We shake our head at this pathetic prophet of the Lord. When Jonah was drowning in the sea, the Lord saved him. When Jonah was in the belly of the great fish, he prayed for rescue and deliverance and the Lord heard his prayer and delivered him safely onto dry ground. Now, this same Jonah resents the fact that the Lord has saved Nineveh. He was thankful to God for saving him. He's angry at God for saving Nineveh.
C. Jonah's Creedal Confession
1. Jonah seems to be so blinded by his prejudice towards the Ninevites, that he doesn't see the great inconsistency / contradiction between WHO he believes God is and HOW he believes God acts.
2. He confesses WHO God is in a wonderful creed. When he was on board the ship heading for Tarshish, Jonah confessed that "the Lord is the God of heaven, who made the sea and the dry land." Now, in addition to Creator, Jonah adds three more attributes of God.
3. He is GRACIOUS. Gracious means that He is full of grace. He gives undeserved love. To love and do good to someone who is loveable and is good is not grace – that's justice. But to love and do good to a sinner whose evil has come up before Him, that's grace. God is gracious.
4. He is MERCIFUL. The prisoner standing before the judge pleads for mercy. When the blind and the leprous men standing beside the road cry out to Jesus, they say, "Lord have MERCY upon us," just like we do every Sunday. They're asking Jesus to go out of his way to be kind and compassionate to them. That's mercy. God is merciful.
5. He is SLOW TO ANGER. The Hebrew here is delightful. Literally, it reads, "YOU ARE LONG OF TWO NOSTRILS." No 'snorting' in impatience from Him. He doesn't have a quick temper or fly off in a rage. That's patience. God is slow to anger.
6. He is ABOUNDING IN STEADFAST LOVE. Abounding means, there's always more where that came from. Steadfast means dependable, you can count on it. That's loyal love. God is abounding in steadfast love.
7. He RELENTS FROM DISASTER. We've talked a lot about this already. He withdraws the threat. He backs down from administering the punishment.
8. These are God's "PROPER WORKS." They come natural to Him. It's what God loves to do because this is who God is.
9. And Jonah's got it right. But what Jonah doesn't understand is that because this is WHO God is, then God must be Who He is for everyone. Without prejudice and without bias. He is the God WHO is all of the above for the whole world.
D. Jonah's 1st Death Wish
1. But Jonah is prejudice and his prejudice has created so much anger in him that he can't see it. He can only see his way or no way. And so he prays to the God who just saved his life to now take his life because he can't stand to live in a world where God saves wicked and evil people. "Therefore, now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live."
2. Don't know if you've noticed, but this is the pattern for the way Jonah deals things when they don't go his way. Onboard the ship he goes to the bottom of the boat and falls fast asleep. Then he asks to be thrown into the sea and drowned. Now, he would rather die than live. When things don't go his way, when he's not in control, Jonah quits, cops out, runs away.
3. And so the amazing thing in all of this is, God's will is done, through this pathetic prophet. The pagan sailors on the ship are converted. The pagan and wicked Ninevites are converted. Everyone is converted … except for Jonah. We wonder. Will he be converted too?
II. The Lord's Attempts to Change Jonah
A. Jonah's Unjustified Anger
1. So far, we've heard from Jonah and only Jonah. Jonah the self-centered, the self-righteous, the selfish. Now we hear from God.
2. "And the Lord said, 'Do you do well to be angry?'"
3. That's a rhetorical question. The obvious answer is "no." It's the kind of question you ask a child who's acting immature or selfish. "Is that any way to behave?"
4. It shouldn't surprise us that Jonah doesn't answer the question. Once again, he quits, cops out, he runs away.
B. Jonah Flees
1. "Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city."
2. Maps of the city of Nineveh show that the eastern side of the city is flanked by several high hills. So, rather than remain in the city, preaching and teaching about the Lord, as we would expect a prophet of the Lord to do, Jonah leaves the city and makes himself comfortable on top of a hill and looks down on the city, waiting to see what will happen to it.
3. What was he hoping to see? That their repentance and turn from evil be short lived and they'd revert to their evil ways? Oh, wouldn't he love to watch and see them feel the judgment and wrath of God after all.
4. Can't help but compare Jonah looking down on Nineveh hoping it will fall from grace, with Jonah's Lord who looks down on Jerusalem in deep sorrow at their fall. "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem."
5. Again the irony of it all. The King of Nineveh comes down from his throne and sits in ashes humbling himself, but Jonah exalts himself. And Jesus' words were never more clear, "whoever exalts himself will be humbled but whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 14:11)
6. If only we would see the world as Jesus sees it. Every person, every nation, from the greatest to the least, from the best to the worst, people for whom Christ has shed His precious blood and died on the cross. "God so loved the WORLD that He sent His only Son."
C. Three Moves To Move Jonah.
1. Now God goes to work on His pathetic prophet to move him to repentance.
2. 1st – "Now the Lord God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant."
3. The purpose for the plant was to "save him from his discomfort." And we wonder, just which "discomfort" is God interested in saving Jonah from?
4. Jonah is so happy about the plant because it makes his life on the hill and the hut more pleasant. And Jonah, being the "its all about Jonah" kind of guy he is, thinks that it this plant is a divine sign of God's favor with him. But this is just a set up.
5. 2nd – "But when the dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered."
6. 3rd – "When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Johan so that he was faint."
7. Three times in three verses we've read, "the Lord appointed" or "God appointed." We've heard this before. "And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah." The Lord "appointed" a great fish, a plant, a worm, and a scorching east wind, all for the sake of His pathetic prophet.
D. Jonah's Response to Lord's Moves
1. And now Jonah. And his response tells us that not much has changed. "And Jonah asked that he might die and said, 'It is better for me to die than to live."
2. And once again, God asks Jonah the same rhetorical question as before. "Do you do well to be angry for the plant?"
3. And yet again, Jonah resists the chance to change and takes his usual way of escape. "And he said, "Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die."
E. God's Final Words
1. The final scene comes to a close with God's response to Jonah. "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 not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle."
2. The final contrast and irony is the greatest one of all. Jonah is all upset about the loss of a plant but not at all bothered by the eternal destiny of a city of people.
3. God has the last word in this account. He had the first word, "Now the Word of the Lord came to Jonah saying…" and now the last word.
4. All of the attention in these last two verses is upon God's pity for Nineveh. There's not one mention of anyone's worthiness or unworthiness, their faith or repentance. The whole focus is upon God's heart for the Ninevites.
5. And that's where the whole account stops. It doesn't end. It stops. And we're left wondering if Jonah ever repents.
6. What does he do from here? Does he come to his senses and come down from the hill and settle down in Nineveh and preach and teach these people who don't know their right from their left about God's Word and will for their life? Does he go back to Jerusalem and offer his sacrifices and prayers at the Temple? Or does he go straight to Joppa and get back on a ship headed for Tarshish?
7. Rather than wondering about Jonah, the author of this book leaves Jonah's response out because he wants us to wonder about ourselves. You would you respond? How will you respond to the Ninevites that God calls you to go to? What kind of prejudices do we have towards those who are outside of the Church and the Kingdom of God? How do we respond when God is gracious to the evil and wicked and they don't get what they deserve?
8. Are the Creeds that we confess and the doctrines we believe just empty words? Do they contradict the way we expect God to act in the world?
9. Jonah wanted insiders would remain insiders and receive God's blessings and outsiders remain outsiders and get God's judgment. How many of his attitudes do we share?
And so we conclude this journey the way we began it. When the Pharisees and Scribes and the people asked Jesus for a sign to show them Who He was, He said, "No other sign will be given you except the sign of Jonah."
Knowing what we've come to know about Jonah, we wonder, 'what did He mean?" On Easter Sunday we'll talk about that.