Today we are finishing out the book of Jonah. It’s been a great book to help us examine ourselves, and today is no exception. This book is meant to be held up as a mirror to force us to ask ourselves the same questions that Jonah was asked. And in chapter 4, especially, we see the climax of these questions, the main thing that God wants us to be faced with.
To remind you of where we are, Jonah was called by God to go to Nineveh to preach repentance to the wicked people there, and instead he runs to Joppa, boards a ship, and tries to flee to Tarshish. God pursues Jonah, the sailors throw him into the sea and Jonah is swallowed by a whale. Jonah finally calls out to God seeming to repent, and so God has the whale vomit Jonah out onto dry land. Then God calls Jonah again to go to Nineveh, and so he does this time, preaches God’s judgment, and the people immediately mourn for their sin and repent. So, God relents from the disaster that he was going to bring upon them.
That’s where we’re at. God has shown mercy upon the Ninevites. At this point you would think any prophet or preacher would be as giddy as can be. But, Jonah is not. Read with me, just verse 1 of chapter 4:
But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry.
The entire city of Nineveh was broken for their sin, and have turned because of Jonah’s preaching and God’s working! An awesome work of God in which an entire city known for its wickedness is turning from that wickedness to God. And how does Jonah respond? He is exceedingly angry. You see now why I’m just not convinced that Jonah truly turned from his own sin back in chapter 2 as he’s praying to God from the belly of the whale. His heart is more exposed than ever here. Let’s read verse 2. Verse 1, he’s exceedingly angry, verse 2:
2 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;
Here’s where we see the real reason he ran! He knew that this might happen, so he ran away. He had so much hatred for the Ninevites, that it even made him hate the very God who would show mercy on them. He says,
That is why I made haste to flee for Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. [Ugh, right?! How awful!]
What he says here about God is almost a direct quote from Joel 2:13. It’s also spoken, almost verbatim, in Exodus 34, when Moses is back up on the top of Mount Sinai after he had thrown and broken the tablets of the 10 Commandments when he saw the people worshipping the Golden Calf. So God comes down to the top of the mountain again with Moses, and this is the first thing God says to Moses, Exodus 34:6-7- “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” I mean, these are our favorite attributes of God, right? Central to who he is, and why we can call God truly GOOD, no matter what is happening.
This is what is so great about our God, not merely that he is just, though he certainly is, but that he is also merciful! But Jonah speaks as if he hates God’s character. He knew God would be gracious toward the Ninevites, and he just can’t stand it! Vs. 3:
3 Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 4 And the Lord said, “Do you do well to be angry?”
Jonah is so angry that he’d rather die than see Nineveh saved. So God asks, is it right for you to be angry? Do you have good reason to be angry? Do you do well to be angry? Jonah doesn’t respond. Why? Because he knows he doesn’t have an answer to that question, at least not a legitimate answer. So what does he do? Vs. 5:
5 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.
What’s he doing here? Jonah is literally setting up a spot for him to watch and see if maybe God will still bring about judgment for Nineveh. He’s waiting and hoping that they mess it up! He wants to see them destroyed! This is why I don’t think that Jonah’s 5-word sermon to the Ninevites in chapter 3 was a summary of his fuller sermon. I really think he only preached these five words! He didn’t want them to repent and be saved, so he gave the weakest sermon he could possibly give! He didn’t even tell them to repent so that God would relent; he merely pronounced, “Yet 40 days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” He didn’t want them to turn, because he thought they deserved to be destroyed. And now he’s gotten just far enough away so that he’s safe, and he’s just waiting and hoping to see a Sodom and Gomorrah-kind of judgment upon Nineveh.
What a dark place to be. To hate a group of people so much that you wish they suffer and even die. But before we go on to see what God teaches Jonah, I want to be clear with all of us: do not assume that you are not like Jonah. Don’t assume this isn’t you. Maybe we don’t want them to be destroyed, but I bet, for everyone in this room, there are certain people that you hope don’t have a good life, or a joyful life; at a minimum, there are people that you don’t care much for. That’s likely true for every one of us in this room. So, God has something to say, not only to Jonah, but to us. And it starts in verse 6:
6 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.
God just doesn’t give up on Jonah, does he? You’d think he would have given up a long time ago, but he still cares to teach Jonah and bring him back to himself. Jonah’s little tent or makeshift structure apparently didn’t do much to actually provide him shade, so God gives him some better shade by having this plant grow over him. Vs. 7:
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 is better for me to die than to live.” 9 But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.”
So, God had this plant grow over him to provide shade, then he sent a worm to kill the plant. Then God asked him again, “Do you do well to be angry?” The first time God asked Jonah this question, he had no response, because he knew he didn’t have a legitimate reason to be angry. This time, though, it’s like the last straw: he is fuming angry. He says, “Yes, I do well to be angry [you can almost imagine him being sarcastic with this], Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die!” Reminds me of a childish response when a kid doesn’t get what he wants. And then the last two verses in the entire book of Jonah:
10 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. 11 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?”
This is the climax of the book, the main theme, the main question for Jonah. And the way I want to sum up what God is asking and teaching us in this whole book is with one question, one truth, and one plea.
The One Question is this: What do we care about more than lost people?
For Jonah, his sin and selfishness had become so dominant in his mind and in his heart that he, in one day, had grown to love this plant more than he loved the Ninevites. He was exceedingly glad about a plant that he didn’t plant himself, nor grow, and didn’t even know but for a day. Exceedingly glad to have this plant. And yet, 120,000 people who did not even know their right hand from their left (in other words, they didn’t know better like Jonah knew better), they really knew nothing about God. These 120,000 people, not only did he not care for them, he hated them. He had other things that he cared about, but it certainly did not include the Ninevites.
I tried to think this week of specific things that I sometimes care about more than people. And some of these aren’t bad things, nor should they be in competition with caring about the lost. Like, I should care about my family, and I should care about the lost. It’s not an “either-or” or “one-more-the-other” when it comes to some things, like family. But, what are things that we sometimes care about more than lost people that, clearly, we should not care about more? 3 examples:
- Avoiding social awkwardness: For some of us, it may be our top goal in life to never, ever, ever feel awkward in a social situation. Maybe that is the ultimate fear for some of you. And guess what? Religion is taboo in American conversation; it might make things awkward. Listen, church: Make things awkward! Do it! By avoiding social awkwardness at all costs, you may very well avoid it, but with it you will avoid divine appointments to share the love of God. Avoiding social awkwardness is not more important the souls of human beings. Maybe a new Raintree motto: Make things awkward!
- Another one; our reputations, what people think about us. You know, I have it a little easier than most of you, because as soon as people hear what I do for a living, they almost expectme to start asking about their spiritual background, and things like that. But, think about this: we think Jonah is ridiculous for caring so much about a plant and not for the Ninevites, but we, just as trivially, care more about what people think of usthan what they think of God.
- The last one I’ll mention, even though there are many more: Our own agendas, what we need to get done (our to-do list). Reba mentioned that in the video. It isn’t a bad thing to have a to-do list, really it’s a necessary thing most of the time, but it also can be a distraction from what matters most. Investing into people, caring about people, takes time, is often messy, and sometimes will feel like an interruption! But listen, there is no better interruption in the WORLD than caring for the people around us, especially caring about their spiritual well-being.
So, what do you care about more than lost people, and are you willing to repent of that this morning? Because here’s the One Truth we see in Jonah. We see many truths, but this one in particular:
ONE Truth: To God, the most precious things on earth are human beings.
This is why we cannot give up on people.God, of all beings, has the right to give up on people, and yet he doesn’t. Why? Because people are precious to Him! He doesn’t give up on Jonah through this entire book. Four times the word “appointed” is used: God appointed the fish, he appointed the plant, h e appointed the worm, and the appointed the east wind. All of this was to do what? To punish? No! To draw Jonah back to himself! God did not give up on Jonah, because Jonah was precious to Him!
He also certainly did not give up on the Ninevites, did he? Was God angry about Nineveh’s sin and wickedness? Of course he was! That’s why he sent Jonah in the first place. Jonah 1:2- “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.” He was angry, but he sent Jonah to call them to repentance! Jonah didn’t really seem to do that, he just preached judgment, but God was determined to see the city of Nineveh repent! And so, he brought about a great revival.
People are precious to God, and so He does not give up. 2 Peter 3:9- “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God is sovereign, particularly in salvation. Salvation belongs to the Lord, he chose us in him before the foundation of the world (that’s Ephesians 1:4), and yet somehow it is also true that God does not wish for anyone to perish, but for all to come to repentance. If GOD, the righteous and holy Creator and Sustainer of all things does not give up on people, how can we possibly think we have a right to? The question God asks is, “Do you have reason to be angry? Do you have reason to give up on people?” Do we, church? No we do not!
It doesn’t matter how much you think the country’s going to hell in a hand-basket, or how close you think the end is, do not give up on people! Do you realize that God’s people have been convinced the end is near ever since before the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70?! Yes, the end may be near, but don’t let that be a reason to give up on evangelism; let that be a reason you are compelled toward evangelism! We only have so much time in this life to do the one thing we’ll never be able to in heaven.
I mean, do you realize that Reba’s perspective on this attitude of urgency because according to her medical prognosis she literally doesn’t have long: Do you realize that that’s not a UNIQUE perspective; but that it’s actually the ACCURATE perspective! It’s reality! None of us know how long we have, and even if we did, if somehow God told you that you have 80 years left in this life, the magnitude of the gospel and God’s care for human beings should compel you not to waste a momentof those 80 years! Urgency is THE perspective of the New Testament. “The time is NEAR!” “The Kingdom of God is HERE.”
ONE TRUTH: To God, the most precious things on earth are human beings. Which leads us into one plea, the implication of God’s last question to Jonah:
ONE Plea: We must genuinely care about people.
For Jonah, back in chapter 3, there was compliance, right? He went to Nineveh, he preached (sort of), probably just enough to feel like he was technically obeying, but it is obvious that his heart was not in this. You see, you can take what we talked about last week and today, and try and love people and even invest into them, maybe even share the gospel with them—you can do all of that this week, just so you don’t feel guilty next week when we talk about this again. OR, you can so genuinely care about the people around you, and be so genuinely overwhelmed by the grace of God that has been given to you in Christ, that you cannot help but love, invest, and share this week.
Here’s the truth: if we don’t care for lost people, we will never share the gospel with lost people. Not that caring about people should be our primary reason we share the gospel with them. That shouldn’t be our primarymotivation. Our main reason, the main thing that should compel us to share with those around us is our love for God, and our desire to obey him. And just as a reminder from last week: we are all called to fulfill the Great Commission, not just pastors or deacons or super-Christians. We’re all called to make disciples.
Our main motivation for making disciples of Jesus should be our love for God and our desire to be obedient. BUT, even though this is the primary reason we share, it’s also likely true, just speaking more practically, that if you don’t care about people, you will not share the gospel with them! God cares for people, and so should we.
If you struggle with caring about people, I want to encourage you: at least you’re struggling. Jonah was just comfortable with it, and if that’syou—you’re just comfortable not caring—you don’t just need to tweak a few things; you might need to repent, like the Ninevites! But if you struggle with caring, and you want to care, if that’s you, I come back to the same thing I ended with last wk—two things to do:
- Ask God to give you a desire to reach the lost.
- Pray for opportunities to reach the lost.
Last week, I told you that for the next 15 weeks I’m going to share with you the opportunities I had that previous week to invest into the people around me, and even share the gospel. I also mentioned that I’m going to be reading one chapter a week of Spurgeon’s The Soul Winner. For those of you who contacted me and are going to be reading along with me, your books are on the front desk in the front office with your names on them. We do have a few extra, so let me know if you want to jump in as well.
But this week, I had a few opportunities to meet people that I don’t think know Jesus. I was at the park with Jacob and Lauryn, and a parent with a child in our Parents’ Day Out program was there that I had never met, but Lauryn mentioned that he was a parent, so I went over and met him and got to know him for a few minutes, before Jacob and Brydyn interrupted us with needing to go home. I didn’t get to share the gospel, but I did get to meet him and talk with him, and I’m praying that God would let me meet him and talk with him again.
I did get to share the gospel to kick off the women’s weekend Friday evening, which I know is kind-of cheating, because I’m a pastor and I often get those opportunities, but I still got to share the gospel as the foundation for everything the weekend was about. I’m praying every morning when I wake up for a desire to reach the lost—that I genuinely care for the people that God so cares for—and I’m praying for opportunities to share. I want to invite you to do the same. We only have this lifetime, church. Every day we go through without a desire to reach the lost, in a very real sense, is a day wasted. Let’s not waste these days. Let’s do as Ephesians 5:16 says, “Making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.”
The truth of the matter is that there’s no such thing as a permanent indifference toward people. If you think you’re just kind-of floating: “I’m not like Jonah, I don’t hate anyone. But I don’t really love people either, or care about them like God calls us to.” There’s not really a middle road. If you don’t care for people like God cares for people, eventually you are going to struggle with enmity. You will be annoyed with people. You will start having very skewed desires for people, like Jonah.
We will either stop caring about certain people or we will be so filled with the knowledge of how much God loves us despite our sin, despite our rebellion, despite our backgrounds, or tendencies, or querks, that we will not be able but to love the people around us, and desire for them to know this love of our Father. It’s one or the other. There’s no middle road. Do not forget, like Jonah forgot, the mercy of God shown to you. Show that mercy to others, and tell them about God’s mercy found in Christ. Let’s pray.