This is the final week in the book of Jonah. It has been an exploration of what surrendering to God looks like. Especially when we don’t want to, which is almost always. It would be cool if you went back and listened to the Podcasts of the first three weeks so we are all on the same page but for now I will recap.
There are four chapters:
Chapter One: Jonah Runs the wrong way and God sends a storm,
Chapter Two: Jonah Prays from inside the belly of a sea monster,
Chapter Three: Jonah Preaches the most successful and lame sermon ever then,
Chapter Four: Jonah pouts and feels sorry for himself.
This week we are going to pout and feel sorry for ourselves—welcome to Jonah’s Pity Party. When the Ninevites repented and God had mercy on them it broke poor Jonah’s little heart. He had run around saying “Forty Days from now God will destroy Nineveh” and now that wasn’t even going to happen. He was so embarrassed just standing there with no destruction and everything. God totally stood him up. Don’t you hate when you tell everyone a city is going to be destroyed and then it completely is not destroyed and everything?
Let’s read through the text again and I’ll point a few things out as we go, Jonah chapter four:
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 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 are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.
So, Jonah tells on himself, this is why he ran the other way and didn’t want to obey God in the first place. He knew God was gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and relenting from disaster. Which all sounds like good news but Jonah didn’t want to share God’s kindness with people he hated so he goes on to say:
Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.”
!!!! Let that sink in. Jonah would rather die than watch God show kindness to the people who believed his message. Okay. I kinda expect God to go Homer Simpson on him, grab him by the throat and say “Why you little…” But that’s not what happens, instead God is as patient as a Kung Fu Master asking a rhetorical question:
And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
Try to snatch the pebble from my hand Grasshopper. When God asks a question it is always for the sake of the person He’s talking to, He is God after all. Notice Jonah doesn’t answer this time. He just storms off stamping his feet like a toddler.
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.
He is still hoping that God will rain destruction down on Nineveh like a reverse Forth of July fireworks show.
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.
Jonah had made a booth but the booth wasn’t enough to make him comfortable, probably because he was facing the sun. God applied a little Miracle Grow and suddenly he was feeling good. Rightly so, Jonah saw this as a “God Thing.” Probably made him feel very special. Maybe God would destroy Nineveh after all! There’s still time for this to all turn out great. Jonah was getting so hopeful. Here’s a truth about people, we tend to look for happiness in the same place we lost it.
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.
The worm killed the plant and the wind probably knocked down his little makeshift hut. These are also “God things” but Jonah, like all of us, doesn’t want to accept discipline and redirection from God. It just made him angry.
And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.”
He repeats himself. Once again Jonah is in “full on pouting brat mode.” I would expect God to act like Homer again but God speaks to him gently, like He’s speaking to a spoiled child:
But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”
I think Jonah knew exactly what God was getting at, just like we do, but he won’t admit it:
And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”
God responds one more time and then the book is finished:
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?”
The end. Cattle get the last word.
We don’t know what happens next. Does Jonah repent again? Does God destroy Jonah instead of Nineveh? I don’t think so, God has shown nothing but patience and grace throughout whole story. Why does God ask a rhetorical question and leave us hanging like this? Maybe it’s because the question isn’t just for Jonah, it’s for us. It’s for the people of God who will read this account and realize that we also have a hard time surrendering to what God tells us to do. We have a hard time accepting that God both gives and takes away. He makes the sun shine on us in happy times and walks us through dark storms when He is the only thing we have to hold on to.
I think the main theme of the book of Jonah is that we’re rebellious and God is compassionate. We’re stubborn and God is merciful. God is our Father and we’re disobedient children. The open-ended question is how are we going to respond to this message? God, who loves us, in His kindness has told us to do something—told us to do many things—we refuse to do it and feel sorry for ourselves.
We stand there with Jonah at the end of the last chapter, God’s Word ringing in our ears. Will we be hard hearted and angry or — or what? What is the opposite of Jonah’s reaction? If our attitude is to be the opposite of Jonah’s, what should our attitude be?
Is the message simply to do what God tells us? Jonah did what God told him to do, so I don’t think that’s the point. What’s the point then?
I’ll tell you what I think, and it changes everything. The way to be the opposite of Jonah is to be thankful. Grateful. Humble. To be for others rather than for our self. It’s the direction of growing into maturity rather than wallowing in childish pouting.
Discontentment is the base sin and cause of almost all our unhappiness. It is our basic sickness and the cure is to be grateful. Thankful.
In the entire Bible there is nothing that seems to disgust God more than discontentment. Ungratefulness. Entitlement.
When my kids were a little younger they used to love going to Chuck E Cheese. They thought it was the most exciting, fun place in the world. To me it’s one of the most torturous things to do on the planet—everything from the bad pizza, mind-numbing noise and the animatronic singing robots is just painful. I think I’d rather go to Nineveh in the belly of a whale then spend an hour at Chuck E’s, but because we want to be good parents and we love our kids, we would spend our precious Saturday afternoon in the cheesiest place on earth. The kids would run around in a frenzy, play the lame games, ride the dumb rides, collect a few hundred thousand tickets that they could trade for an amazing prize before going home. Three million tickets would buy an eraser shaped like a mouse head. Totally worth the investment.
Then the most amazing thing would happen. Every time. As we got ready to leave, my kids would look up at me with tears of joy and say, “Thank you father for the great sacrifice of spending your precious Saturday bringing us to this place of glorious wonder. We are eternally grateful.”
Yeah, that’s the ticket. That’s exactly what they said.
Well, the tears in the eyes part is true. You know what really happened: They threw a fit and begged to stay longer. No matter how long you stay it’s never long enough, they always want more. They’re never thankful that you brought them, only sad when they have to leave.
And it never gets any better. I’m not just talking about the kids. We get a little older and grow out of Chuck E Cheese but then it’s replaced by other equally pathetic things until we’re fully grown adults walking around being ungrateful for everything all the time. No matter how much we get we always want more. No matter how long we get to stay we always want to stay longer.
What’s the sadness of death if it’s not just throwing a fit as we leave Chuck E Cheese?
It is sad when we have to go, and when our friends have to go, but we have the hope that there is life after cheese. If you can imagine the possibility of a place more wonderful than Chuck E’s.
We spend so much of our life obsessing over things that won’t bring us any joy. Jonah wanted to die because his pet plant had withered. Really? A plant! That seems really lame but I’ve lost my mind over stupid things, too. Is there something you have, some prized possession, that if it were taken from you would tear at your soul? How much would it bother you if you dropped your phone or iPad on the concrete and cracked the glass? Or if your car was stolen? Or your house was broken into? What if it burned to the ground? Or even worse things.
Would you be tempted to curse God and want to die? That’s pretty much where Jonah is at the end of the book.
I’m afraid it wouldn’t take much for me to go there, too. I’m not better than Jonah. I’ve been there before and I’ll probably be there again.
Some of the things God’s going to ask us to do are going to be hard. Hard things are always going to be hard. Surrendering to God, being obedient is how we grow into the people God’s called us to be.
The Book of Jonah shows us how gracious God is. Think about how patient He is dealing with stormy little Jonah. God has every right to be angry with him at every turn of this story but He shows kindness instead. Which is amazing to us because it’s not how we would react.
The LORD is patient with Jonah and He is also patient with us. The LORD offers forgiveness to anyone who realizes how ungrateful they’ve been, confesses their unthankfulness, repents and believes His Word. He offers mercy to everyone who’s rebelled against Him, to anyone to hears the Word of the LORD, turns from their wicked ways and believes in the promise of God.
And the promise of God is Jesus. When He hung on the cross dying in our place He looked at us, us—the people standing here with blood on our hands, holding the hammer, watching Him die—He looked at us and said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” That’s the promise of God.
Jonah was a selfish jerk with murder in his heart but he was also one of God’s beloved children. Just like you and me.
“Father, forgive them. It’s my blood on their hands. I shed it for them. I gave it for them. Forgive them.”
And God forgives us. At NewChurch we want to make sure everyone knows that. Here is a twisted paraphrase of the last thing God says in Jonah:
And the Lord said, “You pity your life, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and will perished in a night. And should not I pity the world, in which there are more than 7 billion persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”
Let’s pray together:
Father in Heaven we thank You for Your mercy. We thank You for everything. Help us to have thankful hearts and an attitude of gratefulness for everything in our lives. For the good happy times when everything seems right and for the dark stormy times when we feel the brokenness of this fallen world. Help us to hold onto You, to cling to You and rely on You to get us through the bitter darkness of every sad night. Your promise is Jesus, that in His resurrection we will find joy in the morning. Our hope is in Jesus who died, was buried and rose to life on the third day, we also have the great hope that death is not the end and we will raise to new life, and life everlasting. AMEN