JONAH: SWALLOWED UP BY GOD’S GRACE
WEEK FOUR: The Angry Prophet
We turn our attention to what God has to teach us in this final chapter of the short prophetic book of Jonah. I’ve entitled this message, JONAH, THE ANGRY PROPHET, for reasons that will become readily apparent as we read and unpack the story.
First, let’s remember where we’ve been. Jonah, a professional prophet under King Rehoboam II of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, is called by Yahweh to go to the wicked city of Nineveh in Assyria and preach against it. Instead, Jonah runs the other way toward Spain to a city called Tarshish. Last week I told you he ran because he was afraid of the Assyrian people and he didn’t like them…which is partially true. But later we will hear in Jonah’s own words why he ran.
God then appoints a strong storm to potentially capsize the vessel he’s on, scaring the dickens out of experienced sailors. Then he appoints the storm to cease after the crew hurls Jonah into the sea. God appoints a great fish to swallow Jonah whole and carry him around for 3 days and nights until he finally commands the fish to hurl Jonah onto dry land.
The runaway prophet gets a second chance to make a first impression; so he obeys the Word of God, going to Nineveh and proclaiming they would be destroyed in 40 days. Amazingly, the Ninevites BELIEVED God and their actions backed up their belief, repenting from their wicked and evil ways. THEY did what the Israelites had been warned to do over and over by many prophets, but failed to do.
The nation of Israel was a theocracy, a nation ruled by God. Israel was not created so much to be geographical kingdom, but THE KINGDOM OF GOD. They were redeemed…rescued from slavery SO THAT they could be a kingdom of priests…a people who reflected the nature and character of God to all the other nations.
But instead, Israel had become like all the other nations, seeking power, entertaining corruption at every level…including in their worship. They made treaties with other nations for protection instead of keeping their covenant with Yahweh. They allowed pagan worship of other so-called gods because of their alliances with other nations. They began to look like every other people group.
And when God sent his prophets to warn them…as Jonah had been sent to the pagan city of Nineveh, most of the time the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel refused to repent of their wickedness. BUT NINEVEH…when confronted with God’s warning of coming judgment, BELIEVED GOD and CHANGED THEIR BEHAVIOR. Their actions followed their beliefs. They mourned over their sins. God saw their actions and relented from destroying them.
And that brings us to today’s reading of chapter 4. Listen to how the story ends. [READ JONAH 4].
Again, I want to thank Dr. Richter and her study on Jonah for providing some insights that helped to form this message. The book of Jonah could have ended with chapter 3 and it would have been just as epic as if it had ended with chapter 1. Jonah obeys. Nineveh repents. God relents. And everyone lives “happily ever after.”
But God wants us to learn one more major lesson through this prophetic narrative. Whereas chapter 3 was a lesson in right “actions” or “practice”…first by Jonah and then by the pagan city, chapter 4 is a lesson in right “feelings” or “attitudes.” Let’s see if we can unpack that.
It opens with these words, “This change of plans greatly upset Jonah, and he became very angry.” Later we read Jonah has a similar response when the plant that offered him shade suddenly dies and the east wind scorches his head. Maybe we should call Jonah the ORIGINAL ANGRY BIRD!
But WHY was he angered? We know it was because God relented from destroying Nineveh, but why was God’s act of grace so infuriating to this frustrated, pouting prophet?
Have ya’ll been following the College Admissions Scandal? According to the news, some wealthy parents paid a guy named Rick Singer to help them cheat on standardized tests for their children. Singer also bribed college coaches to falsely designate students as recruited athletes, smoothing their path to admission.
Among those being charged is actress Felicity Huffman, who confessed to the crime and was sentenced a couple of weeks ago. Does anybody remember how long her sentence was? Right. 14 days. Am I the only one who feels she got off easy because of her celebrity status? I was frustrated because I don’t think she got what she deserved.
That’s a relatively minor incident. Imagine the dozens of crimes where the accused is well represented by a high-priced lawyer and criminals get off on a legal technicality. What about the victims? Where is their justice?
Don’t misunderstand me. I am NOT advocating for vigilante justice. I believe that our judicial system, while flawed because of human error, is still one of the best on the planet. Everyone IS innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, not the court of public opinion. I believe we should allow due process to work.
But…in those times when we KNOW a crime has been committed…and when we KNOW the guilty party and we KNOW that they are guilty of THAT crime…and when that guilty party is not held accountable for their actions, we get angry. OUR sense of justice has been violated. Perhaps THAT is why Jonah became Angry Bird.
I mentioned last week that I thought one of the reasons Jonah ran the other way when he first heard the call was he didn’t like the Assyrians. They were pagans, not Yahwists, and they didn’t deserve God’s attention. Chapter 4 spells it out more clearly: So he complained to the LORD about it: “Didn’t I say before I left home that you would do this, LORD? That is why I ran away to Tarshish! I knew that you are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. You are eager to turn back from destroying people.
He was so mad he wanted God to take his life for sparing theirs! His sense of justice has been turned on its head! If God is going to let wicked people off the hook so easily…just because of a little behavior modification, then I want no part it! Those wicked sinners don’t even go to church! They don’t offer sacrifices to you, Lord. The only reason they put on gunny sacks is to get out of being punished like they deserve! I’ve been preaching your word all my life! I’ve walked the straight and narrow. Where has that gotten me. It looks like you’ll let ANYBODY off the hook, God. IT’S NOT FAIR!
Right about now, some of you are agreeing with what I just said, while others of you are saying to yourself, “Man, I’m glad I’m not THAT Angry Bird! Don’t be such a judgmental, hypocritical pharisee. Chill out.” But little do we realize that, in our own way, we can be guilty of similar prejudices.
No matter what country a person is from, there is within most of us a natural inclination to show loyalty and have a sense of nationalistic pride in our own country. Nationalism, when it is politicized is sometimes called, ethnocentrism. It’s a tendency to believe that your country is normal and every other country is…well…not normal. Honestly, most folks have this sort of world view…we Americans just perfected it!
Some of us even demonstrate our nationalism with our own people. Some folks have a problem with politically correct terms like “African-American” or “Asian-American” or “Mexican-American.” Some think there should be no descriptor. If we are citizens, then we are just AMERICAN. Of course, the more precise term would be “UNITED-STATESIAN” since America is a continent and there are three of them: North America, Central America, and South America.
Be that as it may, MOST of us are “proud to be an American…where at least we know we’re free.” Many of us also connect our Christian faith and our American heritage into one ideal. That’s why many Christian churches hang both flags in our sanctuaries.
Therefore, we are offended when people kneel for the National Anthem, or burn the American flag. Some are offended at the many millions in America who practice Islam, Hinduism, and even Judaism. And we are especially offended at those with NO religious affinities…known as the NONES. It offends us that they want to change our “way of life.” If they don’t like it, they should leave!
We also differentiate between people who are less educated or more educated, living in a co-habitation situation with children; bi-racial marriages, living on welfare, people who dress tacky, you name it. We have prejudices based on our own upbringing and our feelings about what is right and wrong. As I heard one comedian put it a few weeks back…“some things aren’t wrong…but they just ain’t right.” And WHY aren’t they right? Because our sense of how things should be…fairness…right and wrong…are based on OUR experiences…OUR interpretation of things.
So, we form opinions about WHO God is based on OUR interpretation of God’s Word through the LENS of OUR WORLD. If we were part of the Massai tribe in Kenya or Tanzania, do you think we would see things differently? Would our value system…on family and community, for instance…be different than the individualistic, capitalistic system of culture and economy here in the U.S.A. You bet!
Jonah saw the world through a Jewish nationalistic lens. He saw pagan nations as less than deserving of God’s grace, just as we see certain people less deserving of God’s grace. And yet, as we have seen in multiple ways throughout Jonah, our God is universal in his extension of grace. In his disappointment, Jonah said, “I KNEW you were gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; eager to turn back from destroying people.” Jonah KNEW that was God’s character and nature; but it was NOT Jonah’s character. He was willing to sacrifice 120,000 human lives to prove HE was right!
That’s not God’s nature. God takes an interest even in those who take no interest in Him. God loves the drug dealer or the pedophile as much as he loves you and me. The distinction lies NOT in God’s love for His creation, but creation’s love and devotion to God. The invitation into a right relationship with our Creator through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is extended to ALL. It is up to us to freely accept it.
Here’s what we know. The Ninevites, for a time at least, accepted God’s Word and changed how they believed and behaved. But what if Jonah had stuck around to disciple them in the ways of Yahweh? What if he had recruited some fellow Jews to do the same? Would it have been possible to save an entire nation? Possibly.
But, as history records it, new leaders emerged in Assyria like Tiglath Pileser III and Sennacherib who took Assyria to new heights economically and geographically as they conquered much of the known world, utterly destroying the northern kingdom of Israel. Who knows, if Assyria had become a God-fearing nation, Israel may have maintained their covenant with Yahweh and would not have been the object of God’s righteous wrath.
So, what are our prejudices? Who are the people we HOPE God punishes for their sins so that we don’t have to evangelize and disciple them? Who from the Byhalia area do you want to love from a distance in hopes they never become a part of our Christian fellowship? Is that consistent with WHO God is as Redeemer of the world?
The Lord appointed a large leafy plant to grow up overnight and provide shade of Jonah while he watched FROM A DISTANCE what would happen to Nineveh. And he was thankful for the plant. Then the Lord appointed a worm to chew the root, causing it to wither; while appointing a scorching east wind to bear down on Jonah, causing Angry Bird to come out again. A second time, Jonah begged God to take his life because of the heat and the dead plant.
God again questions Jonah’s motives. He was MORE worried about that plant—and, frankly, his own well-being, than he was in those 120,000 souls down in Nineveh. Can we be that petty? Nearly every week I get texts from AC Curtis of Express Missions International, telling me about more Christian girls who have been forced into marriages with Muslim men…or moms in America selling out their daughters for drugs…and I feel both angry and helpless.
I think about the thousands of dollars we spend caring for our property, programs, and personnel. I’ve heard folks from this church say that “those people” are not our concern. We should be helping our folks here in Byhalia. And we should, along with the children of Rio Bravo, and girls being trafficked and sold as sex slaves.
Remember the story of the Good Samaritan that Jesus told? Who was the victim? Presumably a fellow Jew. And who were the first two who passed by without doing anything? Church folk! A priest and a Levite, both professional clergy. And who helped the victim. A half-breed hated by the Jews. A foreigner not from that region! Through that story, Jesus was proclaiming that EVERYONE in need is OUR NEIGHBOR!
Let me close with this observation Dr. Richter made about Jonah. No doubt, the guy was well versed in Scripture. He KNEW God through the Torah. He had right-worship. This is known as “orthodoxy.” He also had come to know God in a very personal way in chapter 2 while in the belly of the fish. He had right practice through prayer and through obedience to go to Nineveh. This is called “orthopraxis.” But what Jonah still lacked, as we see in chapter four was right-feeling or feeling. This may be called “orthopathos.”
The entire point of the gospel is to make the identity of God known so that the sinner can reconcile with their Creator and be transformed back into the image of the One who made that sinner-now-saint in the first place. The transformation that SHOULD come from right doctrine (knowing who God actually is) is a resurrected heart (orthopathos), which longs to follow right practice (orthopraxis). In other words, orthodoxy is supposed to result in orthopathos, which naturally brings about orthopraxis. That’s the nature of redemption.
But that wasn’t the case for Jonah, and I dare say it may not be the case for some of us. We got right doctrine but it hasn’t changed our heart to be more like Jesus SO THAT our activities reflect a redemptive Creator. Instead, our practices still spring from whatever keeps us most comfortable and the cultural norms around us. Our hearts are still not a reflection of the heart of our God.
The story of Jonah ends leaving us wondering. God had the last word with Jonah, asking him why he cared more for a silly plant than human beings who are spiritually lost. We are left wondering if God’s Word ever changed his heart and we will never know this side of heaven.
But we CAN know if God’s Word will ever change ours? How can we know we have a heart like Jesus. Our Lord himself said it best, “You will know them by their fruit.” In what ways are you showing concern for the least, the lost, and the left out? To whom are you sharing the Gospel in Word AND deed?
In a few minutes we will extend our fellowship together by sharing in a great Italian lunch and participating in a silent and live auction to benefit the children of Rio Bravo Ministries in Reynosa, Mexico. One small way you can show the love of God is through generously participating in this international ministry. Those children are receiving a godly, Christ-centered home-life and education because of the generosity of folks like you. It is unlikely most of you will EVER see those children personally, but you are helping them grow into the men and women of Mexico that God intends for them to be.
We have a choice. We can be Angry Birds, like Jonah, when folks we don’t know and don’t like are the benefactors of God’s grace. Or we can not only rejoice when one lost sheep is found, we can actually go out and look for them ourselves. Which do you choose? In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN.