The Jonah Files, Uncovered!

Text: Jonah 4

Proposition: The process of uncovering sin exposes the foolishness of the sinner by contrasting it to the grace of God.

Introduction: It’s present in the opening chapters of Genesis as Cain and Abel come to God to bring a sacrifice. Abel, a herdsman, brings a sacrifice of the flock. Cain his brother, brings his sacrifice but it is from the crops, fruit and sheaves of grain. When God accepts Abel’s sacrifice and rejects Cain’s something happens in Cain. Genesis 4:5, 6 says, “…And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell. So the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen?”  What was it that made Cain angry?  The answer seems to be the fact that his sacrifice was not accepted but is there more to it than that? The anger he felt was directed towards God but Abel was in the path of that anger. So God warns Cain about this thing called anger, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”  Cain never answers the question as to why he is angry, he may not even agree that he is angry but sin continues to crouch at the door and when the moment comes, its desire is for Cain, consuming his thinking and his actions.

Anger comes when what we desire or feel that we justly deserve is blocked. We get angry at other people, we get angry at things and at organizations, we get angry at ourselves and we even get angry at God. Why all this talk about anger… well it’s because that’s where the last chapter of Jonah takes us. Have a look at Jonah 4.

I. Anger Against God, It’s a Belief in the Fallibility of God.

Clearly Jonah was angry, ‘exceedingly displeased’ is the polite way of putting it. It’s strange to say but the reason Jonah chose to become so angry was because he was so successful. Jonah had preached a warning to Nineveh that they were to be destroyed in 40 days. Nineveh listened and repented and as a result 500,000 people were spared from the wrath of God against an extremely wicked city. That sounds like a success story yet Jonah’s response to it was to be resentful towards Nineveh and even more resentful towards the God who relented from overthrowing them. The Assyrians were Israel’s enemy, Nineveh was the capital city of this nation. What was really evident to Jonah was that Nineveh did not deserve forgiveness, did not deserve a second chance and most certainly did not deserve God’s grace. Have a look at how intensely Jonah feels about this as he prays to God in verse 2, “Ah, LORD, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that You are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, One who relents from doing harm.” So Jonah declares that he knows the character of God and then adds that it was this very character that he was concerned about. He says that God made the wrong choice because He is so gracious and merciful. Jonah had tried to advise God as to what He should do and when God overruled that advice Jonah was blocked. He had done everything he could do as far as free will is concerned, he ran away, he hid, he even offered himself as a sacrifice, willing to die if it meant the Assyrians would be punished. Every time Jonah tried to direct the will of God he just ended up in a tighter and tighter spot, from the hold of a ship to the belly of a great fish to small spot on a hillside overlooking Nineveh. It’s an exhausting thing to fight against a gracious and merciful and all powerful God whom you are convinced has made a mistake. As bizarre as this might sound Jonah’s anger came from feeling like he was the victim of a God who makes mistakes and the anger of the victimized is intense. As an ultimate statement of resentment against God for His fallibility, Jonah says, “Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!” It was a statement that came from the pride of a stubborn heart, ‘God is not going to change, I’m not willing to change so the impasse is too great. It would be better to die than have to live with the blocked way of this fallible God. Sin was crouching at the door and its desire was for Jonah. The only way past such a blocked anger was to somehow see the truth that God doesn’t make mistakes, there is no fallibility in Him because there is no sin in Him. It is not the lighthouse that needs to change course, it’s the ship that is headed right towards it!

What do you do with anger when you are so angry but you can’t feel the anger? Perhaps the beginning point is to see that God is holy exactly because He is just. His actions though sometimes painful to us are always designed to move us forward past the desires of our sin nature. Sometimes He even asks us, “Is it right for you to be angry?” Do you know how angry you really are? Is the anger doing well for you?” To feel the pain of a sliver in your hand is the first step to beginning to want to look at how big the sliver is. How it got there is the smaller question.

Jonah doesn’t answer God’s question about whether it’s right for him to be angry, he just goes to a hill side waiting for the people of Nineveh to show their true colors and incur the judgment that in his eyes they rightly deserve. Jonah still doesn’t feel the sliver, still doesn’t know how big it is nor how to begin to take it out, all he can think of is how it got there. So God shows Jonah what he can’t see.

II. God’s Infalliblity… His Perfect Justice Rests Upon and is Driven By Love.

The 40 days that Jonah preached are completed and he now waits on a hillside to see what he is unable to see, the compassion of God. The LORD knows the barrier of blindness, even spiritual blindness, so he makes the blind to see. A plant suddenly, amazingly, grows right where Jonah is seated. It shoots up so fast you could practically see it grow. The leaves of the plant spread out and give Jonah shade and relief. While Jonah waits and watches for the wrath of God against Nineveh, God waits and watches Jonah for the recognition of what compassion looks like. The very next morning God appoints a worm to attack the plant, taking away the very shelter that Jonah had been so exceedingly happy and grateful for. Then to amplify the loss of the plant God appoints a strong east wind, scorching and dry and the loss of the plant’s shade is felt even more. Was God being unkind to Jonah, taunting him with blessing and then adversity? Not at all, in fact it was a deep compassion for Jonah that God had which is why He persevered through the hard heart of Jonah. God asks Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” And he said, “It is right for me to be angry, even to death!” It’s like an EMT tech looking for a pulse at the scene of an accident and not finding it, there is still in Jonah no pulse of compassion towards the people below him in the city. So God points out a few unmistakable things that even blind eyes could see.

1. Jonah invested too much in the wrong place. ‘You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night.’ I like the comment of Matthew Henry on this verse, “Inordinate affection lays a foundation for inordinate affliction; what we are           over-fond of when we have it we are apt to over-grieve for when we lose it, and we may see our folly in both.”  The plant was something Jonah needed so he invested too much compassion or pity in it and its loss threw him.

2. Jonah’s ability to love was directly tied to God’s greater ability to love. The point is simple, Jonah you have the ability to love it’s just that you love the wrong things. The ability to love in a way that stops the erosion of anger is to love the way that God designed us to love, to love like He loves. So God compares Jonah’s love for the plant with His love for the people of Nineveh. It’s an argument of the lesser to the greater, if you feel this way about this very small thing then see, feel, trust in the much greater love I have for you and these around you.

3. Jonah is invited to see the depths of God’s love. Have a look at how God displays His love. Jonah didn’t labor for the plant, the inference is that God does labor for people He creates. Jonah didn’t make the plant grow, he couldn’t, but God did make the people grow, to have life in them and even more importantly to have light in them, the light of the knowledge of God. Jonah’s plant would only last for 24 hours, the people God loves so passionately last for eternity. These are the ways that God sees us and invites us to see ourselves and others through these same lenses of divine creation, divine sanctification and a divine eternal soul.

4. Jonah was made to see that innocence invites grace. The 120,000 were children under the age of knowledge, even the animals were in a sense innocent of an act of sin. These were object lessons for Jonah, they pointed to the innocence that comes from repentance and forgiveness of sin. They pointed to the grace of God that such innocence invites in. They pictured what the innocent Son of God, Jesus Christ was going to accomplish and the great grace of God in Christ. Innocence does indeed invite grace, this is what the Jonah files uncovered.  

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